Ransom

Pirate Out of Time

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I am humbly submitting this novel in the hopes that you will enjoy it keeping in mind that I wrote this a year before I joined the Pub (back in 2005), or had attended any kind of pirate reenactment event. I based most of what I knew of large events on the SCA wars I had attended over the previous ten years. That being the case, you will see a few names that sound familiar. It is pure coincidence. If you want to make any comments about the story, pro or con, PM me. I can take it! B) Also, I will probably be doing edits as I post chapters, as I haven't re-read this in over a year, so I am sure I'll find errors. Feel free to point them out to me if you find any.

THIS IS A COPYRIGHTED NOVEL WRITTEN BY ME. NO ONE CAN REPRODUCE, PUBLISH, OR QUOTE FROM IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION.

Here is the brief synopsis that was part of the query letters I sent to book agents at the time, attempting to get the book picked up by an agency. It will help "set up" the story for you.

What happens when a group of pirate reenactors out for a week-long event on a primitive island meet scabrous, vicious pirate reality? I have completed an adventure, reverse time-travel novel of 97,021 words entitled Pirate Out of Time, which attempts to answer that question.

Gray Dog, an illiterate, superstitious pirate, is unknowingly transported three hundred years in time to 2006. On the island he expected to find deserted, he discovers strange pirates flying dozens of versions of the Jolly Roger. While looking for a hidden cache of gold which he will kill to keep, he struggles to deal with and understand power boats, contrails, women in bikinis, flashlights, and beer in tin canisters.

Helena Lindsey and her boyfriend Alex Hunter, along with members of Pirates of the Florida Coast (PFC), find out first hand that not all pirates look or or act like Hollywood movie stars. Over the course of a harrowing week, as food is stolen, members injured, two people murdered, and Helena kidnapped and nearly killed, they finally realize their antagonist is not a PFCer taking reenactment a step too far, but a man far more bizarre, unbelievable, and dangerous.

The questions I asked myself, and that started this story, were: If you met someone claiming to be 300 years from the past, would you truly believe them? And how would someone from the past, uneducated, illiterate and superstitious, thrust 300 years into the future, deal with what he saw, or try to understand what had happened, especially if he didn't know it had happened, and his surroundings didn't at first make it obvious?

Thus you have the plot for Pirate Out of Time.

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CHAPTER ONE

September 16, 1706

13 leagues east of the southeastern Florida coast

Gray Dog stood in the long boat, pissing over the side. He figured it would be close to the last time, as he didn’t have much piss left. He’d swallowed the last drops from a water skin two days ago. His stomach felt flattened to his backbone, as he hadn’t eaten anything in three days. He’d used one of the oars to snag seaweed, but it had tasted like garbage and he’d puked it back up.

Adjusting his breeches, he scanned the horizon, sealine to sealine. Not a blasted cloud in the sky as far as his swollen eyes could see. He licked his cracked lips, plopped down on the wooden bench, and started rowing again, as the boat’s small sail had gone slack when the wind died. Due west, he hoped, with only the blazing sun and cold stars to guide him. He figured he had one good day left in him, maybe two.

Grinding what few teeth he had left, Gray Dog thought of Captain Renaldo — may God rot his black Portuguese heart — and the look on his face as he had cast Gray Dog and Crow Legs adrift six days earlier.

He’d tossed them a water skin and a knife, laughing the whole time. “There’s to you, my spying, bilge-rata friends. Be glad I do not slit your throats and toss you to the sharks.”

“T’was Gray Dog that put me to it, Captain, I ain't done nuthing,” Crow Legs had whined. “At least give us two water skins.”

“Cast off, filth, you’ll be getting the one water skin and no sympathy from me. Maybe you’ll make it to San Cristobal, but I do not think so. I am hoping that British man o’ war, Courage, finds you first. I believe you would make a fine sight, swinging from her main mast. Maybe they’ll be hanging you, Crow Legs, from the crow’s nest, so you’ll feel at home, si?”

“I’ll be living high on your gold before I swing on the Courage,” Gray Dog had yelled back. “I’ll be whoring and feasting while you rot in some stinking English gaol.”

“Tall words, my friend, coming from a man sitting in a very small boat on a very large ocean, with but one skin of water and a spying cockroach for company.” Captain Renaldo had spit at them, laughed, then shouted to his quartermaster, “If these two are still within pistol range in ten minutes, shoot them and retrieve the boat.”

Gray Dog and Crow Legs had hoisted the small sail and, to speed their retreat, rowed, watching the Vautour and Captain Renaldo grow smaller and smaller. By dusk the brig’s sails had fallen below the horizon.

“You think we’ll make it to San Cristobal?” Crow Legs asked.

“Well, I’m planning to,” Gray Dog replied, as he shoved the knife into Crow Legs’ chest. “Can’t say the same for you, mate.” Before his betraying companion stopped twitching, he’d hacked off fingers to use as fish bait, then tossed the scrawny body over the side.

The fingers hadn’t worked. Using the cord from his breeches as a line, the first two fingers had been eaten away, with no fish caught. On the third try, a seagull snatched the finger as it arced through the sky, the cord jerked from his blistered hand. Cursing, he’d watched the bird fly off, his makeshift fishing line dangling from its beak. His only consolation was the gull meant land wasn’t too far off. He hoped.

The rest of the fingers he’d eaten. He’d even sucked, then chewed the bones, while thinking he should have saved more of old Crow Legs’ carcass for eating, instead of dumping it into the ocean. He’d crunched the last digit three days ago. He’d cut strips from the water skin and attempted to eat them, but the hide was too tough, and his teeth too poor.

He squinted against the glare, his eyes always searching for the silhouette that was as clear in his mind as the tribal tattoos that circled his upper arms. San Cristobal Island.

He and Crow Legs had been forced to join Captain Renaldo’s crew back in February, when the Vautour, somewhere between the coast of Africa and the Canary Islands, had taken the merchant ship, Galliard, on which they’d been mates. Since then, they’d heard nothing but rumors about the island where the Captain and his Quartermaster supposedly hid their shares of the cargoes pirated from dozens of ships.

Gray Dog hadn’t believed the stories at first. He’d seen no evidence of treasure on board, and the only ship the Vautour had taken after his capture was a Dutch merchant vessel heading for the Caribbean. She was full of wheat, salt, cloth, household and farming utensils, not gold or silver. They’d put her crew adrift, stripped her of provisions, burned her, then sailed south, heading for the Cape Verde Islands. From there they’d sailed west for Antigua, then northwest, to play havoc with ships coming out of Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico.

In the Gulf they had taken two ships, a French merchantman, and a small Spanish galleon laden with gold and silver on its way back to Spain. The plunder had been divided up, and for a month Gray Dog had more money than he’d ever had in his life. Then the Vautour stayed for a week in Jamaica. By the time she sailed again, Gray Dog’s treasure was safely locked in the coffers of the tavern owners, or stuffed down the bodices of the local prostitutes.

Back at sea, hungover and broke, he listened as Crow Legs continuously repeated the story of San Cristobal. Gray Dog hadn’t paid much attention, seeing no way to discover if the stories were true or not. If they were true, he saw no way to collect the treasure without Renaldo finding out.

But Crow Legs was a persistent little rat, and convinced Gray Dog they should sneak into the Captain’s cabin and get a glimpse of the map of the island. They’d not stolen it. That was too dangerous, but Gray Dog had memorized the island’s shape and the path marked through the hills. The island lay roughly ten leagues east of the southeastern coast of Florida.

By some thieves’ luck they hadn’t been caught. Never would have been, if Crow Legs had kept his gob shut. No, that slimy, son of a rabid dog went whispering among the crew that they knew where a tidy stash of swag could be found. ‘Course Renaldo heard of it and, quick as the squint of an eye, there they were, standing with their backs raw from the whip, their weapons confiscated, and, sore and bleeding, dumped into a boat. The Vautour had been running up the Keys and the southern tip of Florida by that time.

Gray Dog suspected the Vautour had been heading for San Cristobal, so he couldn’t figure out why Renaldo hadn’t just killed them and tossed them into the sea. It finally dawned on him they’d been used as a diversion. The Courage had been playing cat and mouse with them for three days. Renaldo had fed them to the English so the Vautour could skip away. Gray Dog didn’t think the captain of a British war ship would be content with capturing two worthless Foremast Jacks, but in any case, the English ship never found them.

He wiped sweat from his eyes, then bent to rowing again. It was awkward, in a boat designed to hold up to ten men. His arms quivered and his back ached. The whip marks, scabbed-over and cracked, still oozed. He was lightheaded, and the sunlight cut to his brain like a dagger. The breeze had died early in the morning and the sea lay flat and oily looking. He watched a huge jellyfish float by, its transparent, rubbery sail trailing thousands of stinging threads. He wondered if the sail part was edible, but it was out of reach of his oar.

Cursing the lack of wind, he rowed until he was exhausted, then fell back in the boat, its wooden ribs digging painfully into his back. I’ll sleep for a bit, he thought. No use killing myself before I get to the island. He curled his body to ease his back, lay an arm over his face, and slept.

A burning sensation in his nose woke him. Cautiously, he cracked one eye. The boat was enveloped in a sickly, orange-tinted fog. It stung his eyes, and smelled and tasted like sulfur. He sat up, collecting the oars. “What the blazing hell is this?” he croaked, thinking it smelled like cannon smoke, but he’d heard no firing. Had the Courage found him and fired a warning shot? “No, Gray Dog, you idiot,” he mumbled, turning to look behind him, “the English ain't going to waste no cannon shot on your worthless hide.”

The strange fog was so thick he couldn’t see anything. He dared not row, lest he get so far off course he’d die of thirst before he could reach San Cristobal, assuming he was anywhere near it.

The burning in his eyes got worse. His tongue felt thick and dry. With no spittle to swallow with, he coughed, then gagged. The dense foul air roiled and wavered around him, and within it tiny sparks of light winked and hissed. The simple act of breathing seared his nose and lungs as if he breathed in fire.

He laughed, or the closest thing he could manage with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. As he collapsed into the boat, he thought, “You’d best be saying what few prayers you know, old Gray Dog, ‘cause this be hell’s gate opening to welcome you. The next face you’ll be seeing will be the devil’s own.”

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Well done, you roguette, you! I, for one, am definitely captured by the synopsis and the first chapter! Let me know when this one hits the market as I would LOVE an autographed copy!

Blackbead

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September 2006

CHAPTER TWO

September 16

Palms Motel, Key Biscayne, Florida

Arrrr...! Avast! Alex gave a masculine twirl to show off his new pirate frock coat. What do you think?

With a smile of amusement, Helena paused in her packing, hands fisted on her hips. I think you look like something out of Monty Python.

Alex frowned. They never made a pirate movie.

What about Yellowbeard or Crimson Permanent Assurance? she said, pushing back wisps of hair that had escaped her head band. Normally her hair fell almost to her slender waist in a thick, honey-colored cascade, but she had braided it to keep it out of her way. It hung over her left shoulder in a thick rope. I may not be into pirates, but I do like Monte Python.

A wry, lopsided grin pulled at the corner of Alexs mouth. Permanent Assurance was just a prologue. It doesnt count.

Helenas heart gave a little skip. She had to admit, once shed seen that grin, she knew she was doomed. His sandy-blond surfer hair and the six-foot soccer-player body were added bonusesalong with eyes the deep blue of a tropical summer sky.

He posed, feet apart and chest thrust out. This coat makes me feel like Errol Flynn in Captain Blood.

Funny, I dont remember Errol Flynn wearing a T-shirt that says Blackbeard's Triathlon: Drink, Pillage, and Plunder, while fighting the Spanish. Not to mention jeans with cowboy boots.

He shrugged off the frock coat, folded it, and put it in a suitcase one of four gaping open and half full of clothes and costumes theyd brought from home. Come on, Helena, dont be such a wet blanket. Besides, youre going to be stuck with about forty people like me for seven days, so you better lighten up.

Wrong. They are not all like you. Most of the guys are computer geeks who would faint dead away if they ever saw a real pirate. Its a good thing their cutlasses are blunt, or they would end up cutting off their own hands or poking an eye out. Theyre safer on a Paint Ball course.

Wariness furrowed his brow as he stepped closer. With his right index finger he hooked the end of her braid and gave it a tug. And the women, Miss Hoity-Toity Im an assistant art gallery manager? What about them?

She jerked the braid away and flipped it behind her. I might be an assistant manager, but I am not hoity-toity. The women you are referring to are mostly bored housewives or teenagers into role-playing games who would do anything to get away from their parents.

The wariness changed to annoyance. Thats what you really think of the PFC? That were all a bunch of losers?

Helena knew PFC stood for Pirates of the Florida Coast, a reenactment and history group dedicated to all things piratical. She also knew she was exaggerating. The membership consisted of writers, musicians, artists, historianspeople who came from all walks of life. In Alexs local group, based in Boca Raton, were two high school teachers who brought extra excitement to their classes, a lawyer who happened to be an expert in black powder weapons, a woman in her fifties who worked for a well known stock brokerage firm, and a young receptionist. Yes, there were geeks and role-players among the overall membership of about a hundred, but they were not the majority.

No, not really, she conceded. She also knew how much the group meant to Alex, and how involved he was with their activities. With only a few exceptions, it was an involvement she had usually been too busy or uninterested in sharing. Its just, this whole trip has me worried.

He looked surprised. Why?

Forty people on an island with no electricity, no transportation, no running water, only pit toilets, and out of cell phone range of the mainland, and you dont see that as a potential nightmare? Not to mention the fact that San Cristobal Island is on the edge of the Bermuda Triangle.

Is that what has you spooked? Youre afraid well all get sucked up in some space ship, keep company with Elvis, and never be seen again?

I just think the PFC could have chosen a better, less isolated spot for their event.

How would we get the real experience if the PFC held the event in a hotel on the beach in Miami? The whole point is to get away from civilization for seven days and see how we do.

Come on, Alex. Frolicking around in pirate costumes and drinking rum does not qualify as the real experience. Youre going to be cooking on propane stoves, not open fires, and sleeping mostly in dome tents, not under scraps of sailcloth.

He shrugged. Since this is an event not open to the public, I cut everyone some slackmainly for packing convenience. Otherwise, all the tents would be sailcloth, instead of folding chairs thered be wooden benches or old kegs, and all liquids would be imbibed from pewter mugs, horn cups, or coconut shells. Youve been to other events. Youve seen how authentic we can get. With San Cristobal, Im interested in something more intangible. Instead of strict authenticity, I want atmosphere.

I still think you might have done better to lease a sailboat for seven days and pretend it was a pirate ship."

And just how do you suggest I squeeze forty people on a sailboat?

Rotation. Each group gets a couple of days.

Wow, a couple of days, which most would spend being sea sick. Look, if youd rather stay in Key Biscayne, go ahead. Actually, if youre going to have this negative attitude, Id just as soon you flew back to Boca.

That got her. She didnt much like this island idea, but she didnt want him to go without her. There would be too many young girls dressed in low-cut bodices, flaunting their assets, in conjunction with the enjoyment of lots of alcohol. It wasnt that she didnt trust Alex, but guys, alcohol and young girls were a combination ripe for betrayal.

She gave him a weak smile. You know, when I saw you and your gang in that Boca Raton bar, all dressed like youd come off some storybook ship, shouting your Arrrs, and Savvys, I should have walked out.

The wry grin was back. But then you saw me, as handsome a rogue who never sailed the seven seas, and it was love at first sight.

Something like that.

He gave her a kiss that curled her toes and sent goose bumps along her spine. Much more exciting to be dating a pirate, he said, than a lowly, entry-level architect designing fast food stands and drive-through banks.

Oh, I dont know. I find him kinda exciting too.

Good. I find hoity-toity assistant art gallery managers pretty sexy, so were perfect for each other. Come on, lets finish packing and meet the rest of the gang downstairs in the bar. Black Hand has promised to buy the first round.

Even though she had known Alex for six months, she still wasnt used to the PFC names by which the members called each other. Black Hand was Bill Summers, the black powder expert and lawyer. At least his name made sense, because during the few events shed attended, his hands were usually filthy with black powder residue. Other names shed heard, however, she thought either dumb or confusing. Like Pirate Patty, which Helena thought sounded like a comic strip character, but who was actually a thirty year old woman who worked the childrens section of a large department store.

Remember, Captain Blue, she said, closing her suitcase, we have to be on board the ferry by nine tomorrow morning. Dont let the rounds get out of hand. She cocked her head. Savvy?

Alex winked one of the reasons he had been labeled Captain Blue. Better look lively then, lass, as with that smile, ya might be makin me late fer the party.

*********

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The seven members of Alex’s group of the PFC sat around a large table sipping drinks of various kinds and colors. Despite their pirate proclivities, none of them were drinking rum. Spread out on the table was a large map of San Cristobal. Scuba diving was good around the island, so diving groups usually monopolized the small campground, but the PFC had managed to reserve the place coinciding with their favorite party day—the official Talk Like a Pirate Day, which was the nineteenth. They would board the ferry on the seventeenth, and stay through the twenty-third.

Bill Summers pointed to a beach that curved between the two points of the roughly crescent-shaped island. The points faced west. Dangling from the southern point was a teardrop of sand and palms called La Perla, which was separated from the main island during high tide. “Too bad there’s a rule against bringing guns to the island. That beach would be perfect for setting up a few cannons. We could fire them at targets out in the water. Would’ve been fun.”

Alex laughed. “How the hell would you get a couple of cannons on the ferry?”

“Oh, I’d have found a way. What’s the big deal with guns, anyway? Hell, I can’t even hold a black powder pistol shoot.”

“Wise move, not allowing guns on the island,” Julia Cox, the stockbroker, said. “Some of the PFCers can get carried away. Too much rum. With no way to reach the mainland other than the ferry or the island security person’s satellite phone, it’d be too dangerous.”

“Besides,” Alex said, “the rich guy who owns San Cristobal hates guns. He’s afraid people might use the wildlife on the island for target practice. I also think insurance is an issue. He probably doesn’t want to be sued due to a gun-related accident.”

Bill nodded. “Yeah, he’s right. A lawsuit could cost him big time.” He grinned. “I should know.”

“What’s that?” Don Gilbert, one of the history teachers, pointed to a drawing of a wooden derrick.

Arthur Anderson, the other teacher from a rival school, peered at the map. “I think that’s the water tower.

Water from the one artesian spring is gravity fed into this storage tank, so we’ll have drinking water and simple outdoor showers.”

Christa Pullman, a switchboard operator for a Boca title company, let out a sigh. “I was so relieved to read that in the flyer. I couldn’t go seven days without taking a shower.”

“I’m with you, Christa,” Helena said. Had it not been for the availability of the showers, she would have stayed in Boca, working and worrying, until Alex returned.

Bill grinned. “I’m sure you lasses will have more than one mate willin’ ta scrub yer back for ya.”

Christa tossed the cherry from her drink at him. “No thanks. I prefer to scrub my own back.”

Alex gave Bill a mock glare. “The only one to be scrubbin’ Hurricane Helen’s back would be me. Ye be warned.”

“Okay, Blue. You’ve made yer point.” Bill held up his beer glass in salute.

“That glass looks almost empty, as is mine.” Julia lifted her empty wine glass. “Whose round is it?”

Alex winced. “Mine, I think. But it’ll be our last. Don’t want to miss the ferry.”

Arthur flagged down their waitress and each ordered another drink.

Don took a swallow of his micro brew, then asked, “Getting back to island security, who does it? I mean, no one lives on the island, like a permanent park ranger, so who enforces the rules?”

“From what the rental agency told me,” Alex said, “a person is provided by Temp Security out of Miami, on an as-needed basis. I’m guessing that means our guy or gal will be hired just to deal with the PFC. Whoever it is will be crossing on the ferry with us.”

“Will he or she have a gun?” Don asked.

“I don’t think so. Mr. Ross, the island’s owner, is pretty strict on the no guns thing,” Alex replied.

“Sounds like we’ll be protecting ourselves,” Julia said.

“With no guns, and the island deserted but for us, what could happen?” Don said.

Alex winked at Helena. “Ol’ H.H. here thinks because San Cristobal is on the edge of the Bermuda Triangle, we’re all going to be abducted by aliens.”

There was lighthearted laughter among the group, even from Helena. It did sound pretty silly, now she thought about it. “I never said that, but I am worried. Just being paranoid, I guess.”

“I don’t know about aliens,” Arthur said, “but I’ve heard rumors of treasure.”

Don laughed at his colleague. “Come on, Arthur, every island between here and Barbados is rumored to have treasure hidden somewhere. You don’t really believe there’s any on San Cristobal, do you?”

Arthur shrugged. “Just as good a chance there as anywhere else.”

“San Cristobal isn’t that big. If there were any treasure on it, someone would have found it by this time,” Alex said. “The only swag to be found, will be whatever Mad Matilda hides for the treasure hunt she has planned. She’ll be doling out clues all week.”

Christa asked, “Whose treasure is it supposed to be? The old stuff, I mean.”

“Renaldo, Portuguese captain of the Vautour,” Arthur said.

“What does vautour mean?” Helena asked.

“French for vulture. The ship was French built.” Arthur smiled. “Great name for a pirate ship, although she was originally a privateer. I like to think Renaldo traded up when he took her because the name suited his sense of humor.”

Bill downed the last of his beer. “Where’d you learn all this?”

“Read about him.” Arthur smiled. “Pirates are my field of expertise, after all. Figured since we were going to be on his island, I should catch up on my research. I have one of the books in my suitcase. It’s all about the pirates who supposedly buried treasure along the east coast.”

That’s all Alex needs, Helena thought, forty people digging holes everywhere, looking for pirate gold. The island’s owner would just love that. “What happened to this Captain Renaldo?”

“Probably hung. Most of them were,” Bill remarked.

Arthur shook his head. “No, actually, for awhile Renaldo was pretty successful. The last ship he took was a small Spanish galleon heading back to Old Spain from Puerto Bello, Panama. There is a surviving list of the cargo he confiscated from the El Populo — gold and silver coins, bags of gold dust, silver plate. The youngest son of a high ranking Spanish family was killed.”

“That’s not unusual,” Don commented.

“No, but in this case, the family still exists. They have quite a collection of artifacts from the period.”

“So, what did happened to Renaldo?” Helena asked again.

“The Vautour was eventually overtaken by the British ship Courage. Renaldo fought to the bitter end. Died of a musket ball to the head. His ship was burned to the water line, and the majority of his crew drowned, since most sailors back then couldn’t swim. Those who survived were later hung. Actually, Renaldo wasn’t too far from San Cristobal at the time, so rumor has it he was heading for the island to pick up his cache, but had to veer off.”

“That’s convenient,” Don scoffed. “Rumors of a cache, a pirate ship with no survivors, and the captain goes down with his ship without ever revealing the whereabouts of his loot.”

Arthur grinned. “That’s what makes treasure hunting so exciting. Nothing to say it is there, but nothing to say it isn’t, either.”

“Quite a lecture, Arthur.” Alex stood, then rolled up the map of San Cristobal. “Come on, you lot. Treasure or no treasure, it’s time to hit your bunks. Tomorrow is going to be a long, hectic day.”

Later that night Helena and Alex lay on their sides in the king-sized motel bed. With her back curved against his chest, he casually ran ribbons of her hair through his fingers.

“Your hair is like silk. Did I ever tell you that?”

“At least ten times this week,” she said, smiling.

His hand drifted down her bare shoulder then across her left breast. “Your skin is like silk too.” She felt his lips touch her neck, then her shoulder. “How do you do it? Keep your skin this soft?”

“That’s secret girlie stuff. If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

“You do kill me,” he whispered. “Every time I look at you I feel like I’m dying.”

She rolled over, her face close to his. With one finger, he pulled her hair away from her eyes and kissed each eyelid, then her nose, then her mouth. That last kiss became a possession, one she returned with equal intensity. Then time spun out in a whirlpool of sensations that left them both breathless.

When her heartbeat returned to normal and Alex lay back on the pillows, his hands clasped behind his head, she said, “That’s about as close to dying as I want to come.”

He smiled. “It still amazes me how good we are. Not just in bed, although that’s pretty damn hot, but in everything. Well, almost everything. I can tell you’re still not too thrilled with all this pirate stuff.”

“I just don’t understand it. I mean, I know there are all kinds of reenactment groups, from Medieval to the Civil War, but I never paid much attention to them.” She’d tolerated his interest in pirates and this reenactment stuff, but realized she’d never asked him what had sparked the interest in the first place. “Why are you into it?”

“Loved pirates as a kid. Read Treasure Island, Kidnapped. Watched all those old pirate movies on TV.”

Helena cocked an eye. “Then there’s Johnny Depp.”

“Yeah, he makes an okay pirate,” Alex conceded.

“Doesn’t he just.”

“Hey, watch it.” He gave her a teasing poke in the ribs. “Anyway, I used to dress up as a pirate every Halloween. My mom got kinda tired of coming up with new versions of baggy pants, baggy shirt, sash and eye patch.”

“I haven’t dressed up since I was a kid. When I started working I was always too busy to play-act like I was Queen Elizabeth the First, or some tavern wench.”

“Maybe that’s your problem. You need to chill out a little. Learn to relax.”

“Easy for you to say. You don’t have to deal with eccentric artists, fussy patrons, or a boss who thinks he’s the god of the art market.”

“Yeah, from what little I’ve seen of Ruben Westhouse, he does appear to be a little anal.”

“You have no idea. The man is a poster child for control freaks. However, he knows the art world and I need to learn what he knows if I’m ever going to run my own gallery.”

“So you can end up as anal as Ruben?”

She laughed. “I hope not.”

“Then why doesn’t seven days on a nice tropical island sound like fun to you?”

“If San Cristobal had a Four Star hotel, with a swimming pool, jacuzzi, and a great seafood restaurant, then I’d be all for it. I’d sit out by the pool in my deck chair, have a nice man in a white uniform bring me pretty drinks with umbrellas in them, and I’d let you rub sun block on all my exposed places.”

“Well, the sun block part sounds fun.”

“So does the jacuzzi and the little drinks with umbrellas.”

“Okay, that sounds good too, but I think you could also have fun with a bunch of pirates if you’d just let yourself roll with it.”

She turned to face him. “I’ll try, Alex. I will. But cut me some slack, okay? I’m not sure I can live up to Hurricane Helen.”

“I don’t know about that. A few minutes ago, things were getting pretty rough.”

She chuckled softly. “That’s not what I meant.”

He leaned over and kissed her, then whispered in her ear, “Come on, H.H., let’s see if we can’t work up another storm.”

“Are pirates always this lusty?”

“Arrrr ....”

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H.H reminds me of me wife...she tolerates my "obsession" as well lol......even dresses up but in her mind we are just wierd people who live in fantasy I love her such a realist lol

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Thank you both for your words of praise. Much appreciated.

I do have a request, though. From now on, anyone with questions, comments, suggestions, please PM me. That way it won't break up the story's continuity. And I don't really think this story needs a separate comment thread. Thanks everyone! :blink:

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CHAPTER THREE

September 17, 2006

11 leagues east of the southeastern coast of Florida

A distant roaring woke Gray Dog. Rubbing his gritty eyes, he sat up. To his surprise, the mysterious fog was gone. He squinted into the distance, looking for the source of the odd noise. About a mile to the north something bright yellow skimmed across the water. It wasn’t much bigger than his long boat, and it had no sails, but it moved faster than anything Gray Dog had ever seen He scrubbed his eyes, thinking he was seeing things, but when he opened them again, the roaring boat-thing was still there.

Panic-stricken, he dropped to the boards and covered his head. What was it? Where had it come from? If it was some magical boat, then who or what was in it? Or, was it the Devil’s boat, captained by some demon come from hell to collect him? He didn’t know, so stayed low until the roaring sound went away, praying his boat’s small sail wouldn’t betray him.

When he sat up again the frightening yellow thing was gone. He sniffed the air. Something wasn’t right. It wasn’t the sulfur that had come with the fog, but an acrid, burnt-tar sort of smell. He looked up to get his bearings. The sun was still in the east, halfway to zenith. Late morning, then. But how many days had he lain unconscious?

He looked to the west and his heart nearly jumped out of his chest. There it was. San Cristobal Island. Half a day’s rowing away, maybe a bit less. He gave a hoarse shout and leapt up, almost upsetting the boat. “Take that, Renaldo, may you dance the hempen jig from an English gibbet. I told you I’d find her, and I have.”

Not believing his good luck, he picked up the oars and with renewed vigor started to row, wincing as the scabs from his blistered hands broke open again. He ignored the pain, his bone-dry throat, and the hunger that knifed his guts. He forgot it all every time he glanced over his left shoulder, his bloodshot dark eyes focused on that silhouette, looking just like the image he’d held in his brain since he and Crow Legs sneaked into Renaldo’s cabin. He’d find that cache, by God he would, and then he’d find a way to get himself and his treasure off San Cristobal. Someplace where that Portuguese bastard, Renaldo, couldn’t find him.

Gray Dog’s life had been a long string of unknowns and bad luck. His mother had been a whore who worked the London docks. He never knew who his father was—doubted his mother had either. Didn’t know what year he’d been born, so wasn’t sure how old he was. When he was a lad, he was caught by a press gang and shoved aboard a forty-gun British frigate. Between her customers and her gin, Gray Dog figured his mother never realized he was gone.

The frigate sailed along the coast of Spain, then continued down the coast of Africa and around the cape to India, to escort a returning fleet of six merchant vessels back to England. When the frigate docked in London for a refit, Gray Dog and most of the crew were partitioned out to other vessels.

So his life had gone, shuffling from one ship to the next. He’d met Crow Legs while working aboard the privateer, Galliard, sailing the West Indies. Like himself, Crow Legs had been pressed into service, only he’d been caught in Liverpool. The privateer had sailed back across the Atlantic, heading for home, when the Vautour, flying false colors, overtook them. Like him and Crow Legs, most of the sailors agreed to join his crew rather than be cast adrift.

Gray Dog didn’t particularly favor one nation over another, too busy surviving from one day to the next. When he realized the Vautour was a pirate ship, not a foreign privateer, he’d been furious. The last thing he wanted was to end his miserable life hanging from a gallows for piracy. He’d dared not open his mouth though, as one of the others had done so, and promptly been thrown overboard. It didn’t take him long to decide that pirating wasn’t any worse than working a British ship. In fact, in a lot of ways it was better. Gray Dog stowed his original plan to escape.

But when the Vautour sailed toward the coast of Florida, Gray Dog had thought, why not find that hoard Crow Legs kept babbling on about, and hide out in the Americas? Live high for a change, instead of living half-starved and worked to the bone, with no thanks but a kick in the ribs from Renaldo’s quartermaster. All he need do is jump ship somewhere, and work his way back to San Cristobal.

He had no intention of sharing any of that hoard with Crow Legs, especially after he’d flapped his jaws and got the two of them caught. Stupid sod hadn’t even tasted good.

After six days of hard rowing, and with San Cristobal within sight, Gray Dog felt his luck had changed. Renaldo would not have cast them adrift so close to the island were it not for the Courage biting at his backside. Killing Crow Legs had been simple. The only thing not in his favor had been the wind.

But what of that hellish fog the previous evening? He didn’t understand that, or the swift, strange boat-thing he’d seen earlier. He did understand the shape of the island in front of him. It meant freedom and life on land. It meant no more press gangs, no more wormy biscuit or maggoty meat, no more watered rum or risking his neck so some other bastard could gain the profit.

To his delight, the small sail of the long boat ruffled then swelled. Gray Dog shipped his oars, turned around on the bench, gripped the rudder, and let the fresh wind, another proof of his new good fortune, push him closer to his goal.

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CHAPTER FOUR

September 17

Palms Motel, Key Biscayne, Florida

Helena lay in bed listening to the light traffic noise from the street. It was still dark and the bedside clock showed her it was four in the morning. Next to her, Alex lay on his side still deep asleep. She wasn’t surprised. He was probably exhausted.

He’d been planning and organizing this island adventure since before she’d met him. On their third or fourth date, he’d told her it had been an idea tossed out to his local group, that had then snowballed into this excursion. Of the hundred or so members of the PFC, only forty would be allowed to go, due to the limitations of the campground. Besides, the logistics of getting forty people from all along the coast in one spot, with clothes, food, and camping gear for seven days was bad enough. A hundred people would have been impossible.

She’d asked him about the food. With no electricity on the island, how were people going to bring enough ice to keep food fresh for that long? Alex had grinned, then tossed her a package of freeze-dried soup, the kind made for backpackers.

“You can get almost anything freeze-dried these days. Even ice cream,” he’d said.

She’d been incredulous. “Who in their right mind would want to eat freeze-dried ice cream?”

Adding to the problem was the fact that San Cristobal could only be reached by the private ferry from Key Biscayne. It took groups out to the island, dropped them off, then came back to pick them up when their stay was over. The ferry wouldn’t be back for the PFCers until the twenty-third.

Helena hadn’t been joking when she’d told Alex she’d have preferred a nice hotel with a jacuzzi. She didn’t like being cut off from the rest of the world. Her life revolved around cell phones, business lunches, and art openings. Camping in a tent, with outdoor showers and, ugh, pit toilets, was definitely not her thing. She wasn’t excited about having to wear pirate garb, speaking pirateese, and being called Hurricane Helen for a week, either. Only love made her sacrifice the vacation time she had left for something this ridiculous.

She glanced at Alex, his broad shoulders a dark silhouette against the streetlight glow coming through the venetian blinds. Well, she thought, you better make up for all this foolery when we’re alone at night. Otherwise, it will be the last pirate event you drag me off to.

* * *

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The loading dock for the ferry was a madhouse. Forty people of various ages and shapes, all dressed in some mode of pirate garb, stood amid a sea of suitcases, ice chests, tent bags, and propane stoves and lanterns. Some had brought fishing poles, others inflatable inner tubes for floating in the ocean. Helena noticed a few make-up cases and silently wished their owners luck.

Alex stood, clipboard in hand, checking off names as each person came aboard. PFC volunteers not staying on the island helped load the baggage, and would enjoy the ferry ride out to San Cristobal to help unload, then return on her to Key Biscayne. Helena stood at Alex’s side, trying not to wince at the twentieth “Permission to come aboard, Cap’n?” Everyone was in high spirits, and the ‘Avast matey’s’ and ‘Damn your eyes’ were flying fast and furious.

The rules stated, once on board the ferry everyone went by their pirate name until the group returned to the mainland. So, Bill Summer became Black Hand, Julia Cox was now Irish, Don Gilbert turned into Flynt, Arthur Anderson morphed into the clumsy Loose Plank, and Christa Pullman flounced around as Tortuga Tess. To everyone but the Boca crew, who were allowed the privilege of calling him simply Blue, Alex was Captain Blue, and she—God, could you believe it?—was Hurricane Helen.

It took over an hour to get everyone on board, then the ferry slowly pulled away from Key Biscayne and headed for the open ocean and the thirty mile trip to San Cristobal.

She and Alex were standing at the bow enjoying the view when a man dressed in a uniform, not pirate garb, introduced himself.

“I’m Charlie Tibbits, Temp Security. Saw you on the dock with the clipboard, so figured you’re the man I need to touch bases with.” He held out a beefy hand.

The man appeared to have been a high school or college football player whose physique had gone to seed with age. He was taller than Alex, weighed at least two-fifty, and had a military-style haircut and neat mustache. His khaki uniform stretched over a barrel chest and Budweiser stomach. Helena guessed he was in his late forties.

Alex took the offered hand. “I’m Alex Hunter, this is Helena Lindsey.”

Tibbits looked around and shook his head. “Quite an interesting group you’ve got here. What’s the point of all this?” His gesture encompassed the entire boat.

“Fun, mostly,” Alex said.

“Pretty strange kind of fun. What are you supposed to be?”

“Pirates. We’re a reenactment group called Pirates of the Florida Coast. PFC for short. We study the history of pirates, learn about how they lived, what they ate, that kind of thing. We also put on demo’s for schools and fund-raising events.”

Charlie smirked. “From what little I’ve heard, most pirates didn’t live too long.”

“That’s true, but we’re not trying to bring back piracy, Mr. Tibbits, just learn a little and have some fun in the process.”

“Well, let’s hope you can keep this bunch under control. I don’t like not being able to carry a weapon, other than this billy club. Anyone causes problems, he’ll get a nice knot on his head.”

Helena saw Alex’s body tense. She took his hand, then smiled at the security man. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary, Mr. Tibbits. As Alex told you, these people are here to have fun, not cause trouble.”

Her skin crawled as the man’s gaze dropped, then lingered on her low-cut bodice.

With obvious reluctance, Tibbits’ tore his eyes away from her cleavage and looked at Alex. “A lot can happen in seven days. Best mind your P’s and Q’s. Only thing connecting us to the mainland is this.” He patted the satellite phone clipped to his belt. “If anyone gets hurt or messes up, I’ll call the ferry, and this little party will be over.” He slid mirrored sunglasses over his eyes and sauntered away.

“God, what an awful man.” Helena shivered, despite the warm, moist breeze.

Alex banged his fist on the deck rail. “Shit. I spend over six months planning this trip, and I get stuck with some police academy dropout who thinks he’s Rambo.”

“He can’t do anything if everyone keeps to the rules and stays away from him. Makes me glad about that no-gun rule. Can you imagine having to deal with him if he was allowed to carry a firearm?”

“I don’t even want to think about it. I also didn’t like the way he looked at you.”

“I didn’t like it either.”

Alex scowled as he watched Tibbits bully his way through the PFCers on deck, his hand resting authoritatively on the billy club. “There’s a security cabin on the island. Hopefully, he’ll stay in there most of the time. I don’t want him harassing us.”

“Hey,” she turned his face to hers, “Captain Blue, we’re supposed to be having fun. Forget Tibbits. Better still, think up a good, insulting pirate name for him.”

Alex grinned. “How about Tidbits, as it looks like he spends most of his time sitting in a easy-chair, sucking down brewskies and eating pretzels or popcorn.”

Helena laughed. “God, whatever you do, don’t call him that to his face. He’ll use your head for billy club practice.” She reached up and ruffled his hair. “And I like this head too much to see it caved in by some rent-a-cop.”

Behind them, a trio of singers started a ribald sea chantey, accompanied by fife and hand drum. Helena felt better as she saw Alex relax. She tried to relax as well, but the image of Charlie Tibbits’ hard dark eyes staring down her cleavage continued to haunt her.

The rest of the trip went smoothly. At first Tibbits patrolled the deck, inspecting the groups who gathered along the rail, or sat together on blankets while enjoying snacks from baskets or picnic hampers. A couple of miles off shore, as the catamaran bounced lightly over two-foot swells, he suddenly disappeared below deck, where the restrooms were located.

Helena and Alex joined the Boca PFCers, who were sitting together on the port side of the bow. A bottle of wine was uncorked, glasses filled, then all enjoyed the perfecttropical weather.

Maybe, Helena thought, this trip wouldn’t be so bad. As long as Tibbits left them alone. She knew Alex was a pretty laid-back guy. The cold fire she’d seen ignite in his eyes when Tibbits visually stripped her, told a different story. It was a side of Alex’s personality she’d never witnessed before, and it disturbed her.

A barefoot young man wearing bright red baggy pants and an open shirt, pointed, and called out, “Avast, mates. Land ho!”

Along with all the others, Alex’s crew rushed to the rail, anxious to see where they would be spending the next week.

San Cristobal lay on the sea like a crescent jeweled brooch on blue satin—a cabochon of onyx, surrounded by emeralds, and set in a bezel of white-gold sand. At the southern end, one horn of the crescent dipped into the sea, then reemerged as La Perla, a small hump of mostly sand and palms. Sprinkled around the northern horn were about a dozen rocky outcroppings where sea birds roosted. Protected within the arms of the crescent lay Azure Bay.

“It’d be paradise,” Helena said, “if only it had a real bathroom.”

Alex laughed. “Hurricane Helen doesn’t need a fancy bathroom.”

“Speak for yourself, Captain Blue,” she shot back.

“Come on, where’s your sense of adventure?”

“I left it back home, along with my blow dryer, my make-up bag and my cell phone. Not to mention my indoor shower, and my flush toilet.”

Alex put his arm around her. “We’ll have a blast. Guaranteed, you’ll want to come back next year.”

Helena didn’t answer, not wanting to dampen Alex’s spirits. She leaned into him, watching as San Cristobal grew larger and larger. She saw palm trees, shrubs, and black rock. Then, as each had been marked on the map, the water tower came into view, the small security cabin, three covered cabanas with picnic tables, pit toilet sheds, and last, the bleached-wood finger of a pier. About a mile south of the pier, also as it had been marked on the map, she could just make out the reed bed of the salt marsh, where the spring emptied into the sea.

She felt the vibrations of the ferry’s engines as the boat slowed to approached the pier, then thrust in reverse to stop them alongside, then idle. A man jumped to the pier with a fat mooring line and wrapped it expertly around a metal cleat bolted to the wood. He then trotted to the stern, where another line was tossed to him, which he secured the same way. Tibbits, a handkerchief to his mouth, and carrying a black clothes duffle, reappeared from below, strode to the opening in the deck rail, and quickly left the boat. She took satisfaction in noticing he looked very green around the gills.

Alex, watching the security man’s abrupt departure, commented, “I hope he spent the last half hour puking his guts out.”

The Boca crew gave Alex an appraising look. Helena assumed she wasn’t the only one unused to seeing him so volatile.

“Better get our gear,” Bill said.

“Glad I put Irish on my things. In this mess, anything could go missing,” Julia remarked.

“Oh, you’re so organized, Julia. All I did was tie little pink ribbons to my gear,” Christa said, then giggled. “I sure hope no one had the same idea, and used the same color ribbon.”

Another hour was spent getting all the passengers and their equipment unloaded. Groups fanned out over the campground, claiming places in the shade to put up their tents. Since Alex and Helena would be busy until everyone was situated, Bill and Don had been assigned the task of finding a good camp site for the Boca crew. Helena noticed Tibbits had gone directly to the island cabin, which had its own, private outhouse.

With a couple of throaty blasts of its airhorn the ferry started to pull away. From the deck, the PFCers retuning to Boca waved farewell to their friends. Helena had a sudden urge to run down the pier and leap back on board.

The rest of the day was spent getting everyone squared away. Circles of tents, like circled wagons, collected under the palms. An emergency medical station was set up in one of the cabanas, for treatment of minor injuries, manned by a member who was a paramedic when he wasn’t reenacting.

Communal gatherings would be held in the largest cabana, which had already been dubbed the Bilge Rat Pub. In front of this cabana was a pit just large enough for a fire to sit around and roast marshmallows or hot dogs. The Pub would also be the information center, where notices of classes and contests would be posted.

After an hour of answering questions, coordinating crews, arbitrating minor disputes over campsites, and looking for a young boy who’d gotten separated from his parents, Helena and Alex were back at the Bilge Rat. She held a sheet of paper listing possible flora and fauna hazards while Alex thumbtacked it to a bulletin board. She was happy to noticed the list was a short one.

When he was finished, she asked, “What next?”

“A beer and a chair, in that order.”

Helena was relieved. She was tired and although Alex’s assurance that helping him would get her more in the spirit of the event, she’d felt like a hindrance. She’d fumbled with tents, had answered questions with “ You’d better ask Alex”, therefore receiving scowls of impatience, and nearly gotten herself lost while looking for the boy.

Swiping a small black beetle off her arm, she asked, “Where did Bill and Don set us up?”

“I have no idea.” Alex turned to a stocky woman with long red curly hair, an overflowing bodice and a wide grin. “Hey, Mad Matilda, have you seen Black Hand?”

“Sorry Captain Blue, not since the ferry.” She turned to shout at a young boy of around thirteen, also with red curly hair, and sporting several lurid temporary tattoos. “Justin, have you seen Black Hand?”

The boy’s face twisted in frustration. “Mom, yer supposed ta call me Dirty Red Rackam.”

“Sorry, Dirty Red.” Her grin got wider. “So, have ya seen Black Hand or have ya not?”

“Down by the third cabana, close to the beach.”

“Thanks, Dirty Red,” Alex said, his blue eyes sparkling.

“My pleasure, Captain.” The boy gave a salute, then scampered away.

As they strolled in the direction the boy had pointed, Helena had to admit, everyone appeared to be having fun. Among the few dome tents were more authentic looking tents made of canvas stained to look old. It was obvious not all the PFCers had opted out of authenticity in exchange for convenience. She saw period eating utensils, small wooden benches, and worn carpets on the ground. Most ice chests or modern items were covered in bright cloth, or hidden within the tents. Many of the groups had put up flags sporting various combinations of skull and crossbones, hourglasses, arrows, and blood drips. Others had signs that read ‘Spotted Dick Tavern,’ or ‘Crew of the Merry Death.’ Helena shook her head.

“What’s wrong?” Alex asked.

“I feel like I’ve been dropped into the twilight zone. I had no idea, even with the few events I’ve already attended, that people could get so into this stuff.” She wrinkled her nose. What the hell is a spotted dick?”

“Give us time, woman, and you’ll be having just as much fun.”

“I don’t think I’d go that far. Give me a few days, after the no bathroom thing has really sunk in, then ask me that. And the spotted ... whatever?

“Spotted dick is a pudding, not a venereal disease. Haven’t you ever read any Patrick O’Brian?”

“No, is he a cookbook author?”

“Oh, woman, you’ve got to be kidding! You’ve never heard of Jack Aubrey, captain of the Surprise, or his friend, Stephen Maturin? Of soused hog’s face, toasted cheese, or spotted dick?”

“Not a one. Does that disqualify me for active service in the PFC?”

“Close.”

“There are worse things in life.” She sighed. “I’m never going to get the hang of this pirate stuff.”

He draped an arm over her shoulder. “Would a nice glass of Merlot put you in a better frame of mind?”

“In a real wine glass, not some nasty pewter mug?”

“In a real wine glass.”

She grinned. “Just call me Hurricane.”

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CHAPTER FIVE

September 17

Southeastern shore, San Cristobal Island

As soon as the long boat gouged its prow into the sand, Gray Dog stumbled over the side. With his rapidly dwindling strength, he hauled, pushed, and tugged the boat further up the beach, not wanting to lose his only means of transportation. Too dizzy to stand, he rested a few minutes, then forced himself up again. You need water, old Gray Dog, he thought, or all the gold in the world could be lying at your feet, and you’ll be too dead to enjoy it. He remembered the spring marked on the map and knew he had to get there if he wanted to survive.

He looked around. Near as he could figure, he was close to the southern end of the island. He could see the isthmus that separated La Perla from San Cristobal, the tide low, but rising, the sandy passage glimmering under about two feet of water. Further up the beach the land began a gradual assent, thick with palms and shrubs, to the highest point on the island, a crown of rock approximately three hundred feet high. Gray Dog knew the spring was nestled in the rocks on the southern horn of the crescent, where it ran for about a quarter mile before it splashed down into a small marsh on the western shore.

It wasn’t a hard climb for a fit man, but for Gray Dog, starved and dehydrated, it became an ordeal. He collapsed twice, but doggedly crawled on, knees and hands bleeding. By the time he found the spring, he couldn’t have crawled another foot. He drank frantically, puked it all back up, drank again, puked again, took a breath, and drank slowly. The water tasted like ambrosia, cool and sweet. He lay back, his eyes filling with tears, and laughed. “By God, you made it, Gray Dog, you scurvy bastard, you made it.” Then his world went dark, and he slept the deep sleep of the near-dead.

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CHAPTER SIX

September 17

Boca camp, San Cristobal Island

Helena had to admit, the first glass of Merlot did its magic and she felt much better. By the second glass she was positively cheerful. Alex, finally able to relax for a while, downed one beer, then poured another, while Christa handed around a wooden platter of crackers and cheese. Julia enjoyed the Merlot as well, and Don, Bill, and Arthur drank canned cocktails poured into horn cups.

The Boca group had settled into folding chairs gathered in a loose circle. A light breeze cooled their faces as the sun continued its slow decent into the west.

“Now, how’s this for class, Hurricane?” Bill said. “Just as fancy as one of your gallery openings, I’ll bet.”

Helena popped a cracker in her mouth and nodded.

Alex winked at her. “Might be better. No art snobs to deal with.”

Helena swallowed. “Those are called patrons, if you don’t mind, and they can be as snobby as they like, as long as they buy something expensive.”

“So, what’s a painting go for at your place?” Don asked.

“Depends on what you want and who painted it.” Helena shrugged. “Some are relatively inexpensive at, say, six or seven hundred dollars. Others can go as high as twenty thousand.”

Arthur choked. “Twenty thousand?”

“Ruben recently sold a piece by one of our more prominent artists for sixteen thousand, and last month I sold a sculpture for ten.”

“You make commission off that?” Don asked, eyebrows raised.

“The commission goes to the gallery. I’m paid a salary.”

“What’s the commission?” Julia held out her glass for Helena to refill.

“Fifty percent.”

“Ouch. That seems pretty high.” Alex leaned over to pluck another cracker from the plate. “Don’t the artists complain?”

“No. In some galleries the commission can be as high as sixty or seventy percent. We think the White Gull Gallery is quite fair.”

“My, this looks cozy.” They all turned to see a uniformed Charlie Tibbits standing under a nearby palm. His relaxed stance gave Helena the impression he’d been watching them for quite some time. “Didn’t know being a pirate could be so much fun. Maybe I’ll look your group up when we get back to civilization.”

Helena couldn’t read his expression, as he was still wearing the mirrored sunglasses. He joined them, peering down at her. She suddenly felt exposed, as she was still wearing the low cut bodice.

Alex stood. “I see you’ve recovered from the boat ride.”

Tibbits frowned. “Never liked boats.”

“Guess you better rethink joining our group then,” Alex said. “Hard to be a pirate if you hate boats. Is there something I can help you with, Mr. Tibbits?”

Tibbits shook his head. “Nope. Just taking a look around. Getting the lay of the land.” His mirrored gaze raked over the group. “Better be careful with all that alcohol. Don’t want to have to break up any fights.” He slapped the billy club at his side.

Alex, his voice low and precise, said, “Look, Mr. Tibbits, this is a peaceful group. You can see there are children camping with their parents. No one is going to cause any trouble.”

“Just a warning, that’s all.” He nodded to Alex then swung his gaze to Helena again. “Have a nice afternoon.” Then he strolled away.

Alex flung his empty pewter mug to the ground. It hit with a thunk and spray of sand. “What an asshole.”

Don stood, putting his hand on Alex’s arm. “Take it easy, Blue. Don’t let the guy rattle your cage.”

“Don’s right.” Helena joined Alex. “Just ignore him.”

“If he looks at you that way again, I’ll take that billy club and bash his brains out.”

“Jeeze, calm down.” Julia said, retrieving the mug. “Sit. Have another beer. Besides, the crackers are going soggy.”

Alex unclenched his fists.

“Come on. Let’s take a walk.” Helena took one of his hands, gently trying to pull him toward the beach.

“Go on, Blue,” Arthur said, “take Hurricane for a nice romantic walk.”

With one last look toward Charlie Tibbits, who sauntered among the PFCers like a warden through a prison yard, Alex let Helena lead him away.

Once they reached the beach, as if she’d been holding her breath, Helena let out a sigh of relief. They walked in silence, their bare feet sinking into the warm wet sand. Every now and then the incoming surf curled and foamed around their ankles, then hissed back down the shore. The sun lay low in the turquoise sky, tinting the high wisps of cloud shell-pink. If Alex weren’t still so obviously angry, it would be perfect.

She gave his hand a little shake. “Come on, you’re spoiling the ambiance.”

He blew out a breath. “Sorry. It’s just, that guy rubs me the wrong way.”

“That guy would rub his own mother the wrong way.”

“I don’t think he has one. I think he was spawned under a rock.”

She stopped. “Alex, I’ve never seen you like this. Usually you can handle anything. What’s going on?”

He ran a hand through his hair, then met her worried eyes. “When he looks at you like you’re prey, it makes me want to strangle him. If he ever touched you, I don’t know what I’d do, but it wouldn’t be pretty.”

“He isn’t going to touch me.” The mere thought of those beefy hands on her body made her nauseous. “He’s a slob, I agree, but don’t let him spoil this event for you. You’ve worked too hard, and everyone is looking forward to having a good time.”

“I just wish we weren’t stuck with him for the next seven days.”

“Look, quietly put the word out this guy is scum, that he’s just waiting for someone to break the rules so he can play big bad cop. That way, everyone knows what we’re dealing with and will take care not to piss him off.”

The anger and frustration that had furrowed his brow and given his voice a clipped tone, melted away. He took her face in his hands and gave her a long, lingering kiss. “Does that put the ambiance back?”

“Ummm, close, but not ... quite.”

He wrapped his arms around her, pulled her so close she could feel his heart racing, and kissed her again. “That about do it?”

“Arrrr ...”

He burst out laughing. Then, hand in hand, they continued their walk along the beach.

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By the time they returned to the Boca crew, it was getting dark. The scent of grilled chicken made Helena’s mouth water. Bill and Arthur hovered over a propane stove, while Don tossed salad in a big wooden bowl. Julia, with Christa’s help, was setting up a wooden folding table. Helena suddenly felt guilty that she’d done nothing to help set up the little camp, or prepare the evening’s meal.

“Here, let me do that.” She took Julia’s place and unfolded the legs of the table.

Don looked up. “You okay, Blue?”

“Yeah. Sorry. I kinda lost it there for awhile.” Alex took in the bustle of activity. “I should have said something earlier, but you guys have done a great job setting up camp. Thanks.”

Julia smiled, obviously relieved Alex was no longer angry. “We knew you’d be busy today.” She gave Helena a nod. “Both of you. We put your tent up and stowed your gear.”

Alex glanced over to the tent he would share with Helena. Pinned above the opening was a cardboard sign that read, Captain’s Quarters. He grinned. “You guys are great.”

Christa smiled at Helena. “I wanted to add ‘and first mate’ to the sign, but the others weren’t sure you’d like that.”

Helena was eternally grateful to whomever had stopped her. First mate sounded subservient, and conjured up images of inept TV sidekicks. “No, I wouldn’t have.”

“Bird’s done,” Bill announced.

“I bought sourdough bread at a deli in Key Biscayne. It’s even already buttered.” Christa set the loaf on the table, just as Bill brought a platter heaped with golden-brown chicken and set it next to the salad bowl. The group pulled up canvas folding chairs and settled in to enjoy the feast.

“God, I was starving,” Helena said, while thinking the chicken was the best she’d ever tasted. Must be the sea air, she thought, plucking another drumstick from the platter.

“Better enjoy the fresh food while it lasts. By Wednesday, we’ll be down to freeze-dried or canned,” Arthur said.

Helena made a face. “Please, don’t tell me someone brought freeze-dried ice cream.”

“That’s gross,” Christa said.

“It’s beyond gross.” Arthur, the group’s resident gourmet, wrinkled his nose. “It’s sacrilegious.”

For the next fifteen minutes or so, everyone was too busy eating to talk. When the pace slowed, Alex rapped the edge of his fork on his pewter beer mug. “I need to talk serious for a minute.”

All eyes turned toward him. Helena took a deep breath and waited.

“I think you know by now that Tibbits looks at this event as a chance to practice his billy club skills. Don’t give it to him. Helena,” he nodded in her direction, “made the suggestion we put the word out to be careful with this guy. He’s just looking for an excuse to bash heads, and I don’t want anyone hurt. It’s plain he thinks we PFCers are a bunch of nut cases. So, I’d like you guys to quietly pass the word. I stress quietly, because if Tibbits gets wind of it, he may react badly.”

Bill frowned. “Logistically, there are forty of us and only one of him. What can he do?”

“Make our lives a misery, for one,” Alex answered. “Second, if he deems it necessary, he’ll call the ferry and we’ll all have to leave the island.”

“He has that authority?” Julia asked.

Alex nodded. “He is Mr. Ross’ representative, even if a temporary one. If he decides to play hard ball, he can call this whole event off.”

“That hardly seems fair,” Christa said.

Alex snorted. “I don’t think being fair has anything to do with it. I’ll bet you anything he’s a wannabe cop who never made the cut, so he’s stuck working for a security company, while dreaming of working a homicide division.”

Don took a sip of canned screwdriver, then said, “Tonight’s the first bonfire meeting at the Bilge Rat. We can secretly start to pass the word. Will Tibbits be there?”

“I don’t know,” Alex said.

“I think the women should be especially careful,” Helena said. “Tibbits strikes me as the type to prey on those least able to protect themselves.”

“I’m sorry we have to deal with this guy,” Alex said. “It’s going to cast a shadow over the event. I’d hoped we’d end up with someone a little more tolerant and open-minded.”

Helena smiled at him. “Tibbits isn’t going to ruin your event. We won’t let him.”

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CHAPTER SEVEN

September 17

Artesian spring, San Cristobel Island

Chicken! God rot him, if he didn’t smell chicken. Gray Dog sat up, drooling like a newborn. His stomach wrenched at the smell of food. He drank again from the spring, then stood, his nose searching for the source of the tantalizing smell.

Then his brain kicked in. How the hell could he be smelling cooked chicken on an island that’s supposed to be deserted? He dropped to the rough ground. Had Renaldo landed the Vautour somewhere while he’d slept? Had he survived six days of rowing and starving only to be caught again, and probably shot? And if not Renaldo, then who?

Low as a lizard, he crept to the edge of the rocks and looked down toward the bay. His heart lurched. His mind became a whirlpool of confusion. He shook his head, refusing to believe what his eyes beheld. People. A large camp swarming with dozens of people. It wasn’t possible.

Rage shook him. A blinding, hateful rage at the betrayal. Just when his fortune looked to be made. God rot them all, who were they? Where had they come from? He looked again, but what he saw didn’t make sense. He listened, trying to ignore the crawling hunger that threatened to overcome his caution.

He heard voices, but the people were too far away for him to tell if they were speaking English, Spanish, or Portuguese. Shite, with his piss-poor luck, if not Renaldo, they’d be Frenchies, and he’d spend the rest of his days chained to an oar.

Why? Why would God curse him like this? Then it struck him, clear as church bells. “Sweet Jesus, I’m in hell. I’m dead and damned and this is God’s judgment on me. I’ll be spending eternity crawling around this island like some dog, looking for treasure and never find it.”

Well, hell or no, he had to eat. He waited until dark settled like a cloak over the palms, then picked his way down the hill, heading for the campsite of the enemy. For it didn’t matter what country they came from, they were his enemy until he could find Renaldo’s stash and leave San Cristobal. If he was damned, well, curse God, he’d be damned with gold in his pockets.

When he was as close as he dared, he hunkered down behind a group of palms, watching the strangers. Which only confused him more. They spoke English, but there were many words he didn’t understand. Even more alarming, was the way they were dressed. Some wore frock coats of fine cloth, or shirts and breeches like his own, but others wore a strange mix of items, made from cloth he didn’t know. Most of the men wore weapons, but to his surprise, so did many of the women. Women! Holy Mother of God. Not your dockside trollops, either, but ladies. But why would ladies be wearing swords and knives? Was this a colony?

He inched closer, the smell of food making him frantic. Strange tents shaped like mushrooms or church domes clustered under the palms. As he watched, one of the ladies bent over, pulled a cloth away revealing a red crate, and lifted the lid. Inside, Gray Dog saw ice. Ice? Where did they find ice? I’m dreaming, he thought, this can’t be real. Ice in hell? It almost made him laugh. Then he saw the woman take an odd container from the crate, pry it open, and dump tiny sausages onto a wooden plate. Saliva pooled in his mouth.

A potbellied man came up to the group. On his shoulder was a large parrot, but it didn’t move. Was it stuffed? Why would a man wear a dead parrot on his shoulder? The man made an announcement and moved on. Gray Dog heard something about a bilge rat, and glanced quickly toward the ocean. There was no ship moored at the pier. Why wasn’t there a ship? Was it out to sea, due back at any moment with more men? A ship had to have brought these people. They didn’t look to have been marooned, as they had provisions.

No pier had been marked on the map. Nor any notation made of a colony. Who were these people? They looked real, but ... wrong. It was all wrong and impossible and he was suddenly afraid. Maybe he wasn’t on San Cristobal. In all the vast ocean, he had missed it and landed on some strange island not marked on any map. Merciful God, maybe it was a lunatic colony. Was he trapped with a bunch of madmen? Yet, the shape was the same crescent. La Perla was there, dangling from the southern horn, like the gem it was named for. It must be San Cristobal.

To blazes with that, he thought. To blazes with everything but getting food. To his surprise, as if they’d read his mind, the people closest to where he was hidden began to leave, heading for a bonfire someone had started in front of a palm-roofed shelter. He nearly jumped for joy. Quick and careful as could be, he came up behind one of the strange tents, checked to be certain he wasn’t being watched, then yanked the cloth off the nearest crate shape, revealing one in green. He grabbed one set of handles and dragged it into the shadows.

With trembling fingers he probed the shiny metal catch until, mostly by accident, he got the crate open. Inside was ice, as he’d seen in the other one, along with hard blue bricks freezing to the touch. And food. But it was encased in strange bags. Gray Dog lifted one and sniffed it. The bag felt slippery, but inside he could see what looked like slices of meat. He tore the bag open with his teeth. The smell and taste of ham almost made him faint. He shoved the meat into his mouth, choking and swallowing. He ripped open another bag and found cheese, sliced thin and laced with holes. He discovered peeled boiled eggs, which he stuffed into his shirt to eat later. He found huge strawberries, some kind of melon, and tiny cone-shaped canisters of what tasted like sweet treacle.

He was too hungry to pay attention to the unfamiliar materials the crate and packages were made of. When the worst of his hunger was satisfied, nausea rolled over him like a deep wave. He held his breath, struggling not to puke up the food. Hunched over the metal crate, the debris littered around him, he took deep breaths, willing his stomach to stop cramping. Eventually the sickness passed. He stayed hunched in the shadows, suddenly exhausted, afraid he would pass out like he’d done after drinking the water. He couldn’t allow that, here where the strange, mad colonists could find him. Before leaving, he gave the cluster of tents one last quick inspection. There were at least six more crate shapes in the area. Then he spied it. Not ten feet from the tent, left standing in the middle of a flimsy table, was an open bottle with a brightly colored parrot painted on the side. Gray Dog checked again that he wasn’t being watched, crept to the table, picked up the bottle and sniffed. He barely stifled a yelp of delight. Rum! With a last, furtive look toward the bonfire, he danced a little jig, then turned and melted into the darkness.

As he slunk back to his side of the island, the half-empty rum bottle clutched to his chest, he could have sworn he heard the sound of a fiddle playing his favorite reel.

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CHAPTER EIGHT

September 17

Bilge Rat Pub, San Cristobal Island

When the Boca group arrived at the Bilge Rat Pub, flames already danced in the pit, sending up bright sparks. It would be the only open fire on the island, the wood having been brought over from the mainland, as there was no wood for cutting on San Cristobal. Most of the PFCers had already gathered, their faces glowing from sunburn and the heat from the fire. Standing on one of the picnic tables, a fiddler entertained everyone with a rousing reel, accompanied by their clapping hands. From the crowd, a young man jumped up, flute in hand, and joined in. Off to one side, a small group of young people danced jigs to the music.

With the rest of the Boca group, Helena made herself comfortable and enjoyed the camp-out atmosphere. It reminded her of the times she’d spent at Girl Scout camp, sitting around the fire, singing songs, telling ghost stories, and toasting marshmallows. She’d enjoyed those outings, even when the facilities had been primitive. When had she become so addicted to modern conveniences? When had she lost the ability to relax, have fun, laugh and not feel guilty about it, as if she were wasting time? Maybe Alex was right. She was too uptight. Took things too seriously.

When the song ended, followed by a burst of applause, Helena touched Alex on the arm, hating to intrude on his obvious enjoyment of the music. “We’d better start passing the word before Tibbits shows up.”

The delight in his eyes changed to something hard. “Right.” He motioned to Bill, and the two of them rose from the sand and, counterclockwise, wandered around the circle, hunching down to speak to a number of the other men.

Helena and Julia stood, then walked in the opposite direction, crouching now and then to talk to the PFC women. She tried to stress to them the importance of keeping away from the security man, and to pass the word among their own groups to do the same.

Four singers stood and began a round of sea chanteys, which were well known by the PFCers, who sang boisterously along. When the singers took a break, Alex came forward into the firelight, saying he needed to make a few announcements. He was dressed in loose open shirt, baggy pants called “slops”, and his feet currently bare. A blue sash was tied around his waist, and cutlass hung at his left hip. With the firelight casting gold highlights on his handsome features, Helena thought him the most romantic looking pirate she’d ever seen.

With exaggerated humor, he began, “All right, you rowdy bunch of scabrous dogs, here be the warnin’s. Break em, and ye’ll be keelhauled.”

“And who’s to be doin’ that, Captain, as we’ve nuthin’ with a keel within ten leagues o’ here.” A dark-bearded man in his forties grinned at Alex.

“I’ll be assignin’ that task to you, Rum Runner, and you can decide how best to rig it.”

The crowd laughed, then Alex proceeded to list the dangers of jellyfish in the water, tumbling from the rocks inland, sinking into the marsh, or falling off the pier. Parents were to mind their powder monkeys at all times. There were to be no open fires, other than at the Bilge Rat. Candles must be enclosed in some sort of lantern, but preferably not used at all, due to the fire hazard. He also reminded everyone that La Perla was cut off from San Cristobal during high tide by about three feet of water.

“Now, here’s Mad Matilda to tell ye about the treasure hunt.” He finished, bowed theatrically, and disappeared into the crowd.

“Thank ye, Captain.” Mad Matilda stepped forward. “Now, I know you lot be lookin’ forward to the treasure hunt, so here be the rules. Each mornin’ I’ll be postin’ a clue here at the Bilge Rat. First one ta find the chest, be the winner.” She gave the crowd a stern look. “And don’t be diggin’ pits all over the island, ‘cause the chest be not buried, but in plain sight o’ yer bloodshot eyes. There’s no need fer ye ta be wadin’ over to La Perla, neither, as the treasure be hidden on San Cristobal.”

A young man stood and raised his mug. “Would ye be acceptin’ bribes as to the location?”

Matilda gave the man an exaggerated appraisal. “What have ye got in mind, mate?”

“Sumthin’ in private.”

She straightened, her arms crossed over her ample chest. “And yer a brave one to be makin’ suggestions, with me husband nary ten feet from ye, and ready ta separate yer head from yer shoulders.”

Matilda’s husband stepped out of the crowd. He was built like a blacksmith, and made as if to pull his cutlass from his belt. To applause and laughter, the young man sat down.

Matilda waved a hand. “They’ll be no bribes, so save yer breath. The treasure be worth yer time, but mind Captain Blue’s warnin’s while ye be lookin’ fer it.” With a cocked eye at the seated youth, Matilda’s husband escorted her back to her place.

By that time, Helena and Julia had rejoined Christa, Don and Arthur.

Alex walked into the circle once again. “We all be wantin’ ta have a fine time, and I know ye all be brave and tough, but mind, we’re a long ways from the mainland, so use yer noggins. Ye be warned.” With a smile, he walked around the fire pit and rejoined the Boca group. “Where’s Bill?”

“He’s not back yet,” Helena said. “How many people did you have a chance to talk to?”

“I tried to see most of the group leaders. They’ll pass the word to their crews.”

“What was their reaction?”

“Most didn’t act too surprised. Apparently, I’m not the only one Tibbits has riled. What about the women?”

“They didn’t say much, but agreed to be careful.”

At that moment, Bill rejoined them, sitting next to Alex. In a low voice, he said, “Tibbits is here.”

Helena looked quickly around the gathering, but didn’t see him.

“Where?” Alex asked.

“Other side of the cabana. He’s standing in the dark, watching.”

“You think he noticed us talking to people?” Helena couldn’t help but glance toward the back of the cabana. She couldn’t see anyone.

Bill shrugged. “Don’t know. Don’t know how long he’s been there. I wouldn’t have seen him myself, if I hadn’t had to use the privy. Passed right by him on my way back. He asked me if I was having a nice evening. Nearly jumped out of my boots.”

Christa, her eyes wide, said, “That man gives me the creeps.”

“I think that’s what he’s trying to do. So far, it’s working pretty well,” Bill said.

As the group settled in to enjoy the rest of the songs and music, Helena glanced toward the cabana again, trying to picture the security man lurking in the darkness. Even though she still didn’t see anyone, her skin crawled. She turned to Alex. “Let’s just hope everyone takes our warning seriously. I don’t trust that man.”

Later that evening, Helena and Alex trailed a little behind the others as they walked back to the tents. Alex had his arm around her waist. It made her feel safe, which was admitting she felt afraid. Not just of Tibbits, although he was a big part of it, but of the island. It was too isolated, too dark. A soft breeze rattled the dry palm leaves, making it sound as if the trees were whispering secrets. The rolling surf, which should sound soothing, made her feel stranded. Apparently, relaxing was going to be harder than she thought.

Alex hugged her closer. “You’re being awfully quiet. Tibbits got you spooked?”

She slid her arm around his hips, hooking her thumb in his sash. “Yeah, a little.”

“Can’t say I blame you. For once I wish I was in the future instead of the past. I could have Scotty beam him up.”

Helena smiled. “I’d tell Scotty to accidentally push the wrong button and send his nasty little particles out into space.”

“Forget Tibbits. We came here to have fun, not spend all our time worrying about some overzealous security guard.”

“I know. Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll fall in the marsh. Does it have quicksand?”

Alex chuckled. “I don’t think so, thank goodness. That’s one hazard I wouldn’t want to deal with.”

When they reached the tents, Arthur said, “I brought a large bottle of Amaretto from home. The good stuff. How about a night cap?”

“Sounds good to me,” Alex said.

“I’ll get the glasses. I’m not drinking Amaretto from pewter.” Julia ducked into a spare tent they had set up to store supplies in case it should rain.

“What’s Amaretto?” Christa asked.

Arthur poured and handed her a glass. “Ambrosia, my dear, ambrosia.”

When everyone had a small glass of the golden liquid, Bill made a toast. “To a successful event, here on ‘Treasure Island’.”

Don raised his glass. “Just as long as we remember, the only treasure is the one Mad Matilda has stashed.”

Arthur shook his head. “You never know, Don. You just never know.”

Julia huffed. “Well, I, for one, am not going to spend my days tramping all over San Cristobal looking for treasure, Matilda’s or, what’s his name’s.”

“Captain Renaldo,” Arthur reminded her.

“Me either,” Christa chimed in. “I’m going to take some classes, work on a nice tan, and get the attention of that guy who tried to bribe Matilda. Is he with someone?”

“Not that I’ve noticed,” Alex said.

“Are pirates allowed to wear bikini’s?” Helena asked.

Alex grinned. “Why, you bring one?”

“Just asking.” She had a little—a very little—surprise for him.

“I don’t see why not. Actually, as remote as we are, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of the ladies went without suits, period.”

Helena had a sudden, ugly picture of Tibbits standing hidden in the palms, watching the women swim. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Alex. Not with our voyeuristic Mr. Tibbits around.”

Alex’s face hardened. “Damn that man. Were it not for him, I really don’t think it would be a problem.”

“I agree with Helena.” Julia set her empty glass on the folding table. “That would be like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Even if he didn’t actually accost anyone, he could use that as an excuse to stop the event.”

“And there’s the kids to think of,” Arthur said. “They don’t need to see a bunch of naked ladies frolicking in the waves.”

Alex scrubbed a hand through his hair. “Jeeze, I forgot about the kids. You’re right. No swimming in the buff, male or female.” He sighed. “I better post that first thing in the morning, before the idea occurs to someone.”

Julia got up from her place at the table. “I’m to bed. See you lot in the morning.”

“Me too.” Christa yawned. “This Amaretta stuff is really good, Arthur, but it makes me sleepy.”

Bill set his glass next to Julia’s. “I think we all better turn in. It’s been a long day.”

Alex looked at Helena. “You ready for bed, H. H.?”

She laughed. “Lead on, Captain.”

Within the confines of the small dome tent, Helena and Alex undressed, awkwardly bumping into each other, trying not to laugh. They slipped into the joined sleeping bags, thankful for the inflatable mattress under them. It was obvious to Helena that Alex was neither tired nor sleepy. He pulled her to him hungrily, surprising her with his sudden need. His lovemaking was a possession—a rough, primitive claiming of what was his. He took and she willingly gave, while in the back of her mind she recognized this was his way of telling her she belonged to him, and he would protect her.

Afterward they both lay exhausted. Over their quick breathing, Helena heard the pounding waves as they broke over the sand and rushed up the beach. As if the ocean were a huge, dark animal clutching at the island with watery claws, waiting to drag her in. Her heart pounded and she had an overwhelming urge to get up and run. But to where? Down the beach, where, like Robinson Crusoe, she would end up back where she started, and meet her own footprints in the sand?

Alex’s fingers touched her arm and she flinched.

“Hey,” he whispered, “you okay?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

He raised up on one elbow. “It’s not Tibbits, is it? Are you frightened of him?”

“I hate to admit it, but, yes. It’s not just Tibbits, though.”

“Then what?”

“I don’t know. Just a feeling that something isn’t right.”

“I won’t let anyone hurt you.” His voice had a hard edge to it, so unlike his usual half-joking tone. “I promise.”

“I know. I’m probably overreacting.” She curled against him, and he wrapped his arms around her. “I meant to tell you, tonight, when you were standing by the fire, I thought you looked magnificent. Handsomest pirate on San Cristobal.”

“Why, thank ye, lass. You cut a fine figure yourself in that saucy little bodice you squeezed your ... yourself into.”

“Glad to hear you noticed.”

“Oh, trust me, I noticed.”

“Ooo, Captain, I think you forgot to remove your cutlass before coming to bed.”

He snuggled into her neck then gave her ear a nip. “No, darlin’, I never go anywhere without me weapon.”

Much later, as the waves crashed and receded against the white sands of San Cristobal, Helena lay half asleep, the taste of Amaretto sweet on her lips, and Alex’s strong arms holding her safe.

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CHAPTER NINE

September 18

Southeastern shore, San Cristobal Island

A splitting ache in his head woke Gray Dog. He sat up, blinking against the sun’s glare. The empty rum bottle rolled off his chest onto the sand. He looked at it with regret. Best stuff he’d ever tasted. Should have saved some. He stood, hawked, spit, then walked to the nearest palm, opened his breeches and pissed. When finished, he dug the half-squashed boiled eggs from his shirt, and ate breakfast.

After the last egg, he let out a satisfied belch, then headed for the spring, wondering if he would meet anyone from the lunatic colony. He turned around and grabbed the knife from the boat, just in case. Then he looked up and quailed.

Two white slashes streaked across the blue sky, as if the hand of God held a pen and He was drawing long thin lines with cloud. The lines moved in tandem, with some bright object at each head, reflecting flashes of sunlight.

Gray Dog yelped and ran into the palms, hands over his head. Shaking like a cur, he huddled in the shade, terrified the divine writing would spell out his name, proof of his damnation. The time when Gray Dog might bargain with God was long past. He’d cursed the Almighty again and again, and broken every commandment. He held no hope of mercy.

Head and heart pounded with equal ferocity. Brine flies buzzed around his face. He felt a louse crawling in his armpit. Yet he stayed, not daring to move, until his legs cramped and his thirst became an agony. On all fours, he crawled to the edge of the trees and dared look up.

The streaks of cloud-writing had expanded and thinned almost to mist. Gray Dog stood, scanning the sky from horizon to horizon. The only other clouds were to the south—long veils of pure white, harmless and normal. He dug in his armpit and pinched the louse between thumb and forefinger, vaguely surprised there were any lice left. He thought he’d eaten them all. With a swipe of his hand, he brushed impatiently at the flies biting his neck. He faced inland. The irregular volcanic summit of San Cristobal, wreathed in palms, beckoned. Like iron to a lodestone, he was pulled irresistibly toward it. Somewhere among those black rocks lay his future. Nothing, not God, not the devil himself, was going to stop him from finding it.

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CHAPTER TEN

September 18

Boca camp, San Cristobal Island

Helena was only vaguely aware of Alex slipping from the sleeping bag and dressing. He kneeled, kissed her forehead, and left the tent. She was too comfortable to move. It must be early, she thought, as the light filtering through their tent was dim, and the air that sneaked in when Alex unzipped the door flap felt cool and smelled of dampness and the sea.

She snuggled deeper into the sleeping bag, thought of their lovemaking the previous night, and smiled. Alex could reduce her to jelly like no one else she’d ever known. It sometimes frightened her how easily he accomplished it.

With the others before him, and there hadn’t been that many, she’d held in reserve her strongest desires. She’d never clearly understood whether it was because she didn’t trust them, or didn’t trust herself. With no interest in marriage or kids, she’d not been sorry when the relationships fell apart. The last one, with Paul Mathews, had exploded in recriminations, and his accusation that her snobby artist friends were more important than he was. At first she’d been hurt, but on reflection, had decided he was partly right. He hadn’t fit in among the people with whom she did business, hadn’t understood her need to succeed. That’s when she decided, for the time being, a close relationship with someone was not a good career move.

She’d met Alex the day of her last, heated telephone conversation with Paul. She’d been furious because Paul called her at work just as she was negotiating the sale of a beautiful watercolor. Sick of his selfish theatrics, she’d tried to explain the situation to him. He hung up on her. The couple said they wanted to talk about the purchase over lunch before deciding, and left the gallery. They never came back. After work, still frustrated and angry, she’d walked across the street to a bar called the Blue Parrot for a calming glass of wine.

She was on her second when six people came in—four men and two women—all weirdly dressed and talking like something out of a bad version of Treasure Island. The bartender knew them, greeting them in the same silly talk. This is all I need, she’d thought, a bunch of role-playing fanatics to make my lousy day complete. She was getting up to leave when one of the men turned to face her, made eye contact, and grinned.

He gave her a wink, and she found herself sitting back down and taking a large swallow of wine. When he stood and headed in her direction, her heart danced in her chest. He was no blond-haired kid, as she’d first thought, but an extremely good-looking man in his late twenties, with eyes the color of Hopi turquoise.

“You look a bit lonely, lass,” he’d said, staring down at her.

Overreacting to the sudden flush of heat that spread throughout her body like warm butter, she’d answered, “Not really. Who are you, Captain Kidd?”

Her snappish answer hadn’t fazed him. With a flourish, he settled into the chair opposite her. “Nope, Captain Blue, actually.” He cocked an eye. “And you might be?”

“None of your business.”

He’d leaned back and grinned again. “Now, I’ve heard some pretty strange soundin’ names in me travels, but that one be by far the strangest. Would yer nickname be None, or maybe Biz?”

It was that grin. That damned, ‘don’t take life so seriously’ grin that did it. She’d laughed. “Helena Lindsey.”

“Much better,” he’d said, with no trace of the comic. “Mine’s really Alex Hunter. I’ve never seen you in the Blue Parrot before.”

“This is my first time.”

“Must be karma. I almost didn’t come to the meeting tonight. We might never have met.”

She’d looked over at the group, laughing and still talking in stage accents. “Just what group would that be, and why are you all dressed like attendants for a theme park ride?”

He’d told her about the PFC. When he’d finished, he asked, “And you? What do you do?”

Without hesitating, she told him about her job at the White Gull Gallery.

He winked again. “White gull, blue parrot—we’re made for each other.”

Much to her continued amazement, and despite her initial skepticism, it seemed they were—all previous thoughts of no close relationships banished by the ease with which Alex fit into her world.

Helena pulled the sleeping bag over her head to block out the brightening light. From one of the other tents she heard someone cough. A gull called and was answered by another. The dry voices of the palms were soft, as if just waking. Over all was the rhythm of the surf, pounding in and hissing back—a never-ending, ancient heartbeat.

She curled up and drifted back into sleep.

* * *

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“Hey, Alex, you still in there?” Don’s voice, along with a slap on the outside of the tent, broke through Helena’s haze of sleep.

She sat up, holding the sleeping bag in front of her bare chest in case Don should open the door flap. “No, he’s not. He left the tent early this morning.”

“Well, we need to find him. There’s a problem.”

“Give me a minute to get dressed.”

She pulled on the loose peasant blouse from the previous night, struggled into bikini undies and a pair of jeans, then left the tent. Don was waiting for her. Christa stood next to him, still dressed in a long sleep-shirt that read ‘Pirate Princess’ across the front. Don looked worried. Christa seemed as puzzled as she was.

“What’s wrong?” Helena asked Don. She noticed he wasn’t wearing his usual knit pirate cap, and his mostly bald head was already turning pink from the heat.

“I’m not sure, but Tibbits is looking for Alex, and that means something’s up.”

“Maybe he just wants to ask him a question,” Christa said.

“You didn’t see the smug look on his face. No, something’s happened and Tibbits can’t wait to confront Alex with it.”

“Have you tried looking for him at the Bilge Rat?” Helena said. “Maybe he went to post the notice about no swimming in the nude.”

“Here he comes.” Christa pointed at the first aid cabana. Alex, accompanied by Julia, was striding toward them. Alex’s expression was grim.

“What’s wrong?” Helena asked him, as he entered their circle of tents.

“A crew from Miami had an ice chest broken into last night. Everything inside is gone and whoever did it left it open, so all the ice melted. They also stole a bottle of rum.”

“Shit,” Don said. “You talk to Tibbits yet?”

“No, why?”

Don sighed. “Well, he’s looking for you, so it’s a sure bet he’s heard what’s happened. Any idea who may have done it?”

“No,” Alex said.

“Could it have been a few of the older kids messing around?” Helena asked.

Alex glared. “Kids in the PFC don’t cause trouble at events.”

“What I meant was, maybe they just got carried away,” she said, stung by Alex’s rebuke.

Don came to her defense. “Always a first time, Alex.”

Christa said, “Maybe it was a dare. You know how guys are always daring each other to do stupid stuff.”

Alex shook his head. “No, I don’t think it was kids. It was too savage, the way the bags were ripped up and thrown all over the place.”

“Animals, maybe?” Don said.

A grimace tugged at one corner of Alex’s mouth. “Animals don’t drink rum.”

Before Helena or the others could say anything else, Tibbits entered their camp, thumbs in his belt, mirrored glasses in place. “Seems you’ve got a little situation here, Mr. Hunter.”

“The organization will deal with it,” Alex replied through clenched teeth.

“Thought you said this gang was here to have fun? That include trashing someone’s belongings?” Tibbits leaned his weight on one leg, his head cocked.

“I said, we’ll deal with it. I’ve already talked to the people involved. I told them the rest of the group would donate food from their own supplies to replace what was stolen or ruined.”

“Well, I’ve talked to the vics myself. Told them they were stupid for leaving their stuff out where anyone could grab it.” He glanced around their circle of tents. “I see you keep most of yours out of sight.”

“That’s to keep it out of the rain, not because we’re afraid someone might steal it,” Helena snapped.

Tibbits tilted his head skyward, his glasses reflecting the pristine blue sky and bright sun. “Yeah, sure looks like rain’s going to be a problem.”

“Like Alex told you, Mr. Tibbits, the organization will handle this.” Helena watched him slowly turn his head in her direction, sky, palms and then her own face sliding over the mirrored lenses. She suddenly remembered she’d dressed quickly and wasn’t wearing a bra, and that the cloth of her blouse was thin. Trying to be casual, she crossed her arms over her chest.

After letting his gaze linger on her longer than was necessary, Tibbits returned his attention to Alex. “Maybe you got yourself a stowaway.”

“What are you talking about?” Alex demanded.

“Maybe all your little merry helpers didn’t get back on the ferry. Could be some decided to stay, and helped themselves to the food.”

“PFCers don’t steal from each other.” Alex stepped closer to the man. “If a few of the volunteers didn’t go back, they’d come forward and tell everyone. They’d want to be able to participate in the week’s events, and party with their friends. The last thing they would do is hide out in the palms and steal food.”

Helena tried to keep the disgust she felt for the man out of her voice. “Look, Mr. Tibbits, if it will make you feel any better, we’ll ask around, but I think Alex is right. The volunteers would have come forward. Everyone would have looked on it as a joke.”

Tibbits didn’t say anything for a moment, then he shifted his weight to the other leg and shook his head. “I don’t know what you guys are trying to prove, prancing around in your little costumes and talking like Long John Silver, but that doesn’t change the fact someone on this island is a thief. I suggest you find him—or her—and deal with it, because if it happens again, I call the ferry.” The mirrored lenses scanned Helena slowly, then Tibbits strolled away.

Bill, watching Tibbits’ retreat, said, “You think he might be right about the volunteers?”

Alex shook his head. “No. I can’t believe any of our own would have done it.”

“But, Alex,” Julia stepped forward, “other than Tibbits, we’re the only ones on the island. Who else could it be?”

“Maybe old Tidbits did it himself, just so he could call back the ferry,” Christa said.

“God, Alex, do you think he’d do such a thing?” Helena asked.

A look came over Alex’s face that frightened her. “If I find out he did, I’ll make sure he pays for it big-time.”

The thought that Tibbits might attempt to sabotage the event made Helena furious. The look he’d given her made her shiver. “I feel dirty,” she said. “I’m going to take a shower.”

“I’ll go with you,” Julia said.

By the time the two women had tote bags full of toiletries, towels and a change of clothes, Christa was waiting with her own gear.

She smiled. “Three’s company?”

“Sure,” Helena replied, “but, let’s stop by the privy first.”

Alex, obviously still fuming over the encounter with Tibbits, asked, “You want one of us guys to go with you? Just to be on the safe side?”

Helena shook her head. “I’ll think we’ll be fine. Where are you going to be?”

“I’m going to grab something to eat, then help Bill set up contests for the kids. We’ll be down by the beach if you need me. At least until noon.”

“Then maybe we can meet back here for lunch. Yesterday I told Christa I’d walk through the merchant’s area with her this morning.”

Christa grinned. “Yeah. I’m hoping to find that cute guy. Someone told me he does scrimshaw, so I’m going to go check it out.”

Alex visibly relaxed. “Alright, see you at noon then.”

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

September 18

Artesian spring, San Cristobal

When he reached the spring, Gray Dog drank greedily, wincing as the cold water hit one of his rotting teeth, sending a knife stab of pain through his head—as if his rum head wasn’t bad enough. Cautiously, he edged to the crest of the rocks and looked down.

Like ants, the colonists crawled everywhere. There were even more of the strange-looking tents than he’d thought. All meaning what? Now that his mind wasn’t fogged by the craving for food, he could think clearly.

He had no doubt they were setting up some kind of colony. How else explain the vast stores of provisions in all those crates, and the presence of women, and even children? But whose colony? True, they spoke English, or some form of it, but he saw no English flag flying over the one small building. He might have thought they were from the Colonies, but the few towns he’d seen along the Florida coast were small Spanish settlements. These people weren’t Spanish.

He squinted, trying to get a better view of the sprawl of tents. Then his heart nearly jumped out of his throat. An all too familiar image leapt up at him, grinning that death’s head grin, those hollow eye sockets boring into his pounding brain. “Blast every demon in hell,” he raged. Then he spotted another, and another, until he fell to the ground, shaking with fear. Pirates. At least a score of flags all bearing some form of that cursed death’s head.

His first coherent thought was to hide—himself and his boat. As he scrabbled back to the beach, he mumbled and cursed, paused to slam his fist into the trunk of a palm, then sucked his bloody knuckles. Try as he might, he could make no sense of it. Where had their strange gear come from? Why did they bring their women and children with them? Where was their ship?

Yet, despite the flags, they didn’t look like pirates. Their skin was too pink, their bellies too well fed for any sailor he’d ever seen. Every pirate port he’d stayed in was an infested hole of filth and disease, the bays littered with decaying ships, the men living in tents made of scraps of sail canvas, their women pox-ridden sluts. These pirates looked healthy and—rich! He slammed his fist into another palm. What if I’m too late, he thought, and those dirty sons of flea-infested dogs have already found Renaldo’s hoard?

He reached his boat, pushed it back into the water, and rowed to La Perla. He’d hide out there, keeping away from San Cristobal as much as possible, until he could figure out what to do. He needed to know who these pirates were and if they had found the treasure. He also needed to go back for more food. At low tide, he’d sneak over and help himself while everyone slept. From personal experience, he knew most pirates didn’t recover from drunken excess until late in the morning. He’d be safe enough until daybreak. Best be careful, he thought. If they catch me, I’m dead.

With another string of oaths, and a nagging feeling of unease clawing the pit of his stomach, he pulled the boat to shore on La Perla, then scuttled inland to find a place to lay low until dark.

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CHAPTER TWELVE

September 18

Water tower, San Cristobal

Helena and the two other women visited the privy, then wound their way through the encampment to the water tower—a tall, square wooden derrick set back against the hill. Along one side was a waist-high metal trough under a half-dozen water spigots. On the opposite side were three shower stalls with gravity-fed shower heads. The stalls reminded Helena of restroom cubicles. Each had a door in front, and there was about a foot gap between the walls and the cement floor. The floor was sloped just enough to carry the water to the front of the stall, where it spilled into a gravel-filled trench. Fortunately, all the showers were empty.

Helena stepped into the first one and flipped a metal hook into an eyebolt to lock the door. She pulled soap and shampoo from her tote, then hung the tote from a peg. Feeling exposed, even though the only things visible were her feet, she undressed and turned the lever to start the shower. Since it was hot on San Cristobal, the water in the tank wasn’t freezing, but it wasn’t very warm either. With goose bumps springing up over her body, Helena quickly started to wash her hair.

In the next stall Christa let out a shriek as the water hit her. “Shit, that’s cold.”

“Could be worse,” Julia answered from the far stall, “but Holiday Inn it ain’t.”

When she was finished, Helena toweled off and dressed in her costume for the day—baggy men's pantaloons, clean peasant blouse, bodice and, not wanting to tramp around in heavy, hot boots or buckle shoes, she’d opted for leather sandals. Before she opened the shower door, she remembered Tibbits scanning her like an x-ray machine. She tugged the neckline of the blouse higher, covering her cleavage. Then she grabbed her tote, unhooked the door and stepped out, her wet hair framing her face and clinging to her shoulders.

Tibbits was standing not ten feet away, leaning against a palm. Her heart leapt into her mouth as he straightened and came toward her.

“What the hell is a classy girl like you doing with this bunch of losers?”

He stopped within two feet of her, those dammed mirrored sunglasses still on his face, so she couldn’t read his expression. He seemed huge, like a big bear, blocking her way. How long had he been there, watching and waiting?

He reached up with one hand and ran thumb and forefinger over his mustache, then pointed to her chest. “I liked the thing you had on yesterday better.”

“I don’t dress to please you, Mr. Tibbits. Is there something you want?” Every cell in her being wanted to run.

He smiled. “Oh, yeah.”

“I don’t know what that implies, Mr. Tibbits, but if you don’t get out of my way, I’ll yell for help.”

He made a sweeping gesture that included the whole encampment. “Which wimp are you going to call?”

“They’re not wimps, now get out of my way.” Helena was fully prepared to scream her head off.

Julia emerged from the far shower stall. She took one look at the situation and stepped instantly to Helena’s side. When she spoke to Tibbits, her voice was taunting “Haven’t you already harassed enough people today?”

He never turned his face away from Helena. “Oh, I’m not harassing, just making an observation.”

Christa stepped out, blue eyes blazing. “Then go do your observing somewhere else.”

Tibbits didn’t move.

Helena raised her chin. “I’ll ask you one last time, Mr. Tibbits, to get out of my way. You don’t move, I scream. And I can scream really loud.”

“We’ll all scream,” Christa added.

Tibbits stood a moment more, smiled, and without a word, turned and sauntered away.

“What is it with that guy?” Christa said.

Julia let out a breath. “I don’t know, but Alex needs to be told of this.”

“No.” Helena turned to them. “The last thing Alex needs is this added to his plate. Please, don’t say anything.” She vividly recalled the ice in Alex’s eyes whenever Tibbits looked at her. News of this encounter would only make matters worse.

Christa shook her head. “I don’t know, Helena. This guy seems to have a thing for you. If we don’t tell someone, he may try and corner you again when we’re not around.”

The thought made Helena cringe. The thought of Alex losing control frightened her even more. Tibbits was a big man. He had a weapon. He could hurt Alex badly if given a reason. She didn’t want to be that reason. “I’ll be careful.”

Julia shrugged. “Suit yourself, but I think you’re making a mistake.”

“Come on, let’s go back to camp and make something for breakfast.” Christa, dressed in bodice and skirt, shoved on her head a wide-brimmed hat adorned with bright feathers, and marched back the way they had come.

“It’ll be more like brunch,” Helena remarked, following her.

“Breakfast, brunch, whatever. As long as it’s food. I’m starving.” Julia grinned.

With the mood lightened, the three headed back to the Boca tents.

* * *

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“What are you going to do about Tibbits?” Christa asked.

Helena and Christa strolled among a small group of PFCers who had brought crafts or artwork to sell. There were costumes, jewelry, homemade soaps and scented oils—anything small, easy to transport and that could be sold from a spread blanket on the sand. One enterprising fellow had gathered coconuts, punched holes in them, added straws and was selling them as take-out refreshment. At the far end of the gathering was the object of Christa’s attention, a young man sitting on the ground carving designs into faux ivory.

“Nothing, for the moment, other than keep out of his way,” Helena said, examining a vial of lavender scented oil.

“Just your luck he has the hots for you. Yuk. Can you imagine—”

“I don’t want to imagine.” Helena set the vial back, deciding the scent was too strong for her taste.

“I hope Alex doesn’t find out. Old Tidbits would be in big trouble.”

To Helena’s amusement, Christa, with slow calculation, was working her way toward the young man. “He won’t, if you and Julia don’t tell him. You promised, Christa.” Helena prayed the girl would keep that promise.

“I know, I know. I won’t blab, but I agree with Julia. I think you’re making a mistake.”

“Hopefully, after this morning, he won’t try anything. I think we made it pretty clear his attentions aren’t wanted.”

They approached the blanket where the young man displayed his work. To Helena’s surprise, it was exceptionally good. The man looked up. Helena guessed him to be in his mid-twenties. With a mop of chocolate-colored hair, soulful brown eyes and the haze of a budding mustache and neat Vandyke, she could see why the just-turned twenty-one year old Christa would find him attractive.

He face lit up with a charming smile. “And what could I be showing two fine lasses such as yourselves?”

Helena waited, but the usually ebullient Christa had gone silent as a clam. When an elbow in Christa’s ribs proved ineffective, Helena answered him, “We were told you did fine work. I see they were right.”

In a fluid, graceful movement, the man stood. “Gramercy. Tis nice to know me work is appreciated. See anythin’ ye like?”

“Actually, yes.” Helena pointed to a small box decorated with skilled line drawings of sailing ships.

“Ah,” he knelt, picked up the box and handed it to her, “that be a trinket box, fer puttin’ all yer bits and bobs in.”

Helena examined the box, then opened it. Everything was done with expertise. She didn’t know how he achieved it, but it looked antique. “This is very nice. Do you do all the work, or just the drawings?”

“Oh no, miss. I do all the work meself. That way I know ‘tis done a’right.”

Christa managed to squeak, “I’d like to see that pendant.”

The man winked at her. “And don’t ya have the fine eye. That’s one of me favorite pieces.” He handed the pendant, shaped like a flat teardrop and strung on a velvet cord, into Christa’s out-held palm. The pendant was etched with a single red rose in full bloom, and could have been two hundred years old.

“It’s lovely,” Christa whispered.

Helena asked, “Do you sell your work in a gallery anywhere?”

The man looked surprised. “Why, no. Wasn’t thinkin’ it was all that good. Not that I’m not proud of me work, mind.”

“Do you have a business card, Mr. ... ?” Helena handed back the trinket box.

Forgetting to use his pirate accent, the man said, “Only these. I make them myself on the computer.” He pulled a small rectangle of paper from a leather bag tossed to one side of the blanket. “Why?”

Helena took the card and read ‘Eamon Hawk, maker of fine, authentic scrimshaw’ and there was a Miami phone number. “Well, Mr. Hawk, I work for the White Gull Gallery in Boca Raton. I’d like to show your work to my boss. I think your pieces would fit in nicely with our other artists.”

The man’s eyes widened. “No shit?”

Helena laughed. “No shit.”

“Then, here.” He pulled a half dozen more slips from the satchel. “Take these, just in case you lose that one.”

“Thanks.” With a smile at his enthusiasm, Helena took the extra cards.

The man turned to Christa, his expression changing from enthusiasm to one of open interest. “And here’s one for you. You’ll be noticin’ that me phone number is on there.”

Christa took the card, then her eyes sparkled, and her quick wit returned. “And just who do you think yer dealin’ with, mate, that I should be callin’ you? As if I’ve no other interests in me life.”

“Well,” he gave her a grin that would melt ice at the North Pole, “maybe, with a bit o’ charm, I can make meself one of those interests?”

“And who are you, to think yerself so charmin’ then?” Christa shot back.

The man bowed with a flourish. “I be Eamon Hawk, crew member of the Merry Death. And who might you be, lass?”

“Tortuga Tess, and this,” she nodded at Helena, “is Hurricane Helen. We’re with Captain Blue’s crew.”

“Ah, a fine man, is Captain Blue.” Eamon gave Helena an appraising look. “And I’m thinkin’ he be a lucky captain, if’n you be his lass.”

Helena chuckled. “Well said, sir.” Then, on impulse, because she knew Christa wouldn’t have the nerve to ask him, she said, “And you? Where’s your lucky lass?”

Helena could almost feel Christa holding her breath.

Eamon turned to Christa, and with another wink, said, “Well, tis a sad thing. Would ye believe it, but I’ve no lass of me own.”

Helena grinned. “What a shame.”

“Aye, ‘tis.”

Christa held out the pendant. “Well, Eamon Hawk, 'twas nice to be makin’ yer acquaintance.”

He took it, then said teasingly, “Would ye be turnin’ yer back to me, fer a moment.”

Obviously puzzled, Christa turned around.

Eamon took the velvet cord and carefully put it around Christa’s neck and fastened the clasp. “There,” he said, as she turned to face him again, “isn’t that the perfect place for such a rose, lyin’ on such perfect skin?”

Helena hoped this wasn’t a sales pitch, as the look on Christa’s face was rapturous.

Then Christa’s face fell, as if she too realized it might be nothing more than that. “I can’t afford this.”

Eamon cocked his head and gave her a look of mock disgust. “And did ye hear me ask fer yer silver? Nay, it be a gift, to remind ye of its maker.”

Christa grinned. “Oh, I’ll not be forgettin’ him any time soon.”

Helena, secretly enjoying the encounter between the two, diverted Eamon for a few last questions. “How many finished pieces do you have?”

With obvious reluctance, Eamon pulled his eyes away from Christa. “Probably around two dozen, give or take, with another half dozen in progress.”

“When this event is over, do you think you could bring some samples up to Boca?”

“Are you kidding. I’d crawl there if I had to. Sure, I’ll bring as many pieces as you want.”

“Good. I’ll call you when we get back to the mainland and set up an appointment. I’d give you one of my cards, but they’re in my purse, back at camp.” She decided to give Christa another assist, as if she needed one at this point. “Come by later, and pick one up. Our camp is just past the last cabana.”

Eamon’s eyes swung back to Christa, who’s chin was tucked into her neck as she tried to admire her new pendant. The ice-melting smile returned. “I’ll just do that.”

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It was close to noon, so the two headed back to the Boca camp. Christa was in transports, listing Eamon's many attractions, and thanking Helena profusely for the way she’d discovered he had no girlfriend.

“I thought I was going to burst when he said he didn’t have anyone. God, I can’t believe it. Don’t you think he’s a hunk?”

“Very hunky.”

Christa gave her a grin. “Yeah, but you’ve got Captain Blue. He’s pretty hunky too.”

Helena laughed. “Oh yes. I’d say he’s very hunky.”

They entered the camp giggling like schoolgirls.

Alex sat at the folding table, a platter of fruit in front of him. “What’s so funny?”

Helena sat next to him and picked up an apple. “We were discussing hunks.”

Christa sat across from them, wrinkling her nose. “Is this all there is for lunch?”

“I think there’s leftover chicken in the ice chest. I just got here and was waiting for you two. Which hunks were you discussing?”

“Well, to begin with, a young, very talented charmer named Eamon Hawk. He says he’s with the crew of the Merry Death.” Helena watched with amusement as Alex’s eyes narrowed.

“And who is Eamon Hawk?”

Christa grinned. “Relax, Blue, Eamon Hawk is my hunk. See, he even gave me one of his necklaces.” She leaned in, giving him a closer look at the rose pendant.

Helena diverted his attention from Christa’s nubile charms. “But your name was mentioned as qualifying for hunk status. No need to feel jealous.”

“Well, that’s comforting.”

Christa, after showing off her gift, went in search of the chicken.

Arthur wandered into camp, his face flushed, his clothes dusty and sweat-soaked.

“Where have you been?” Alex asked.

“Matilda posted the first clue this morning. I was out looking for the treasure with a few of the guys from The Spotted Dick Tavern.”

“God, I hate that name.” Christa returned with a Tupperware tub full of drumsticks, a bag of potato chips and a roll of paper towels to use as napkins. “It sounds so gross.”

Arthur plopped into a folding chair just as Bill and Don strolled up and joined them.

“What was the clue?” Helena asked, mildly interested.

“ ‘Look for a rose with no petals or scent. Then follow it north and make your assent’.”

“What’s that mean?” Christa said, her mouth full of chicken.

Bill answered, “A rose with no petals or scent? That could be a compass rose.”

Arthur nodded. “Right. So, you follow a compass north up into the hills.”

“Not much of a clue,” Christa said.

“It’s only the first day of the hunt. Matilda doesn’t want someone to find the stash right away.” Alex dexterously peeled an orange. “How far up into the hills did you go?”

“About half way. Mainly just to get a look around. It’s pretty steep in places and rough. The island is riddled with trails, going in every direction, so there’s no telling where she’s hidden the chest.”

Helena, licking chicken from her fingers, looked at Arthur. “Did you see anyone up in the hills?”

“Well, sure. Dozens. All looking for the chest. Why?”

She told him about the theft of the ice chest contents, and who Tibbits thought might have done it.

Arthur shook his head. “I don’t know all of the people from the other crews. If the stowaways were dressed like the rest of us, how would I know they aren’t supposed to be here?”

Julia, wearing a one-piece bathing suit that fit her admirable figure like an emerald second skin, entered the circle of tents. Around her waist she had tied a purple sash, the fringed ends brushing against her left knee, giving her a swashbuckling look. “Any chicken left?”

“Nice costume, Irish,” Don remarked, jigging his eyebrows up and down like Groucho Marx.

Julia pulled up a chair then plucked a chicken leg from the tub. “Thanks.”

“If you’re going back to the beach after lunch, would you mind if I joined you?” Christa asked.

“No, I don’t mind.” She tossed a chip in her mouth. “It felt wonderful to lay in the warm sun, then plunge into the water to cool off. I must have done it a dozen times. You want to come with us, Helena?”

Feeling there would be safety in numbers if Mr. Tibbits should show up, Helena decided lying on the beach for an afternoon sounded great. Besides, she wanted Alex to see the neat little bikini she’d bought especially for this trip. “Yeah, I think I will.”

“What will you men be doing?” Christa asked.

“Don and I are going to take in a class on how to use a sextant,” Arthur said.

“I think I’ll lend a hand in the first aid cabana,” Bill said, wiping his hands on a paper towel. “Give Sandy a breather. Not that he’s had much action. Mostly scraped knees and bug bites.”

Helena looked over at Alex. “Sandy doesn’t sound like a pirate name.”

“It’s sort of a play on words. Doctors on board ships had sand poured on the floor so they wouldn’t slip in the blood while treating the wounded. Sandy’s a real paramedic, which is lucky for us if someone does get hurt.”

Helena grimaced at the visual the paramedic’s innocent sounding name brought up, then asked, “What about you, Alex?”

He gave her an appraising look. “Well, after I’ve given your bathing suit the close inspection it no doubt deserves, I may or may not mosey off to Marcel Riposte’s rapier class.”

“Are the foils going to have those little knobby things on the points, so no one gets impaled?” Christa asked.

“Couldn’t hold the class otherwise.” Alex replied.

The thought of Alex flourishing a sexy rapier sent a little shiver of excitement through Helena. Maybe she’d skip the beach and go watch him instead. Maybe she’d even take the class. But then the thought of what his reaction to the bikini would be made her change her mind.

“Come on, Christa,” Helena said, rising from her chair, “Let’s get changed.”

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

September 18

La Perla Islet

Curled in a hollow he’d dug in the sand, Gray Dog woke to another roaring sound. He sat up, brushed sand from his face, then crawled to the edge of the palm grove. At first he looked to the sky, to see if there was any more cloud writing. To his relief, the sky was clear. He stood, keeping within the shelter of the palms, and looked around. The sound seemed to come from just beyond the curve of the shore. His heart pounding, he jogged between rough trunks and clumps of sawgrass to the southern tip of La Perla, and scanned the horizon.

It was the flying demon boat again. Bright orange, with red flames streaking down its sides, and spewing smoke and sprays of water, it sped barely fifty yards off shore. To his horror and bewilderment, inside the boat were a man and two women. The man wore no shirt and his eyes were covered by a mirror-shiny mask. But the women. He sucked in a ragged breath and felt himself get hard. Both had hair the color of guinea gold, that blew in long waves behind them. They also wore masks over their eyes. But they were naked. Or as near as, but for some skimpy bright bits of cloth to cover their privy parts.

He stood at the edge of the palms, struck stupid and lusting, as one of the demon women, whose ample breasts bounced within their small harness, waved at him. Then with a quick motion, she untied the harness and bared herself, laughing as she did so.

He screamed and ran.

He’d seen broadsheets depicting hell, put up by priests in the pirate colonies and around busy port towns. Tortured souls screaming for mercy, taunted by naked demon women with pitchforks. Helpless men being forced into giant stew pots, to boil like a haunch of mutton, as flames licked around them. The hell-boat people might look real, but he knew behind those masks the demons wore, their eyes would be blood red. And they had seen him.

Curled once again in his hollow in the sand, Gray Dog tried to banish the vision of the two naked women from his fevered mind, but his cock, oblivious of the risk of damnation, stayed hard.

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

September 18

Western shore, San Cristobal Island

“So, is that a cannon in your breeches, or do you like the suit?” Helena winked at Alex, who stood openmouthed and staring.

“I’ve got to be honest with you, there’s not much of it to like or dislike. But, I ... like it.”

“How about the back view?” She turned, so he could get the full effect of a gym-hardened derriere in a thong.

“Jeeze, Helena, give a guy a break.”

She turned to face him again. “Come on, it’s not like you’ve never seen a thong bikini before.”

“True, but I’ve never seen one on you. Totally different scenario. Come here.”

Julia stepped between them. “Oh no, Blue, you start that stuff, and she’ll never make it to the beach.”

“Yeah,” Christa chimed in, “you just go off and play with your rapier.” After a meaningful pause she burst out laughing.

“I’d rather Helena played with it.” Grinning, Alex tried to sidestep Julia. “Good thing the other guys have already gone, or none of you girls would make it to the beach.”

Christa did a little twirl, showing off a suit in an eye-blinding hot pink, and not much bigger than Helena’s. A belly ring sparkled in her navel. “Do you think Eamon will like this one?”

“If he doesn’t, dial 911, ‘cause it means he’s dead.” Alex quit trying to dodge Julia, and stood appraising the three women. “I must say, I’m a lucky captain to have such fine lasses as part of my crew. Just don’t get yourselves shanghaied by any of these other sea-dogs.” He gestured toward the camp.

Helena wrapped and tied a cotton pareo around her waist, picked up her tote, which she’d filled with a towel, suntan lotion and a book, blew Alex a kiss, slipped on sunglasses and followed Julia and Christa to the beach.

“Watch out for sharks,” he called after them, “and be careful in the water too.”

The three woman flipped bright towels down on the sand, slathered their bodies with suntan lotion, and settled in for a nice snooze. Helena started to read her book, but found the pages blurring after only a short time. The sand was warm, the sun bright and hot, and the breeze balmy and soothing. Whatever dread of the ocean she’d felt the other night was banished away.

She thought of Alex’s reaction to her suit and smiled. The look on his face had been worth the hefty sum she’d paid for the little thing. She had no doubt his concentration would be off during his rapier class. Good. Give him something to think about besides pirate stuff.

She glanced over at the other two woman, who seemed to be asleep. A bit further down the beach a group of kids were playing in the tide, or building sandcastles, watched by a half dozen adults, also wearing bathing suits instead of pirate costumes. A few more adults sat on the pier, legs dangling, with fishing poles in hand. Helena closed her eyes, listening to the rhythmic rolling of the surf, and eventually dozed off.

“What do you want?” Julia’s annoyed voice woke Helena.

A large shadow covered her, blotting out the sun. A sudden feeling of fear gripped her. She sat up, hurriedly reaching for her pareo, which she wrapped around her chest before scrambling to her feet and turning around.

Tibbits stood three feet away. Sweat made dark stains in the khaki at his armpits, and gleamed on his bare arms. She could smell the sourness of it. As before, he wiped a finger and thumb over his mustache.

Helena stepped back. Julia and Christa took places to either side of her.

“What do you want?” Julia demanded again.

“Not a thing. Just admiring the view.”

The sneer that pulled his mouth made Helena sick. Then angry. “I don’t appreciate you looming over me like some fat bear. I told you before to keep away from me and I meant it.”

The sneer changed to a snarl. “You’re pretty fucking brave, for a woman standing there with practically nothing on. What, you don’t expect people to look?”

“Looking is one thing, leering is another,” Helena shot back, furious.

Christa, who had wrapped a towel around herself, glared. “Kinda funny how you’re the only one who’s leering. The rest of the guys around here show a little respect.”

“Like I said, they’re all a bunch of wimps. Probably mostly fags. Why else would they play dress up? You could stand there naked and they wouldn’t notice.”

“Oh, I don’t think that's so true.” Eamon, a relaxed smile on his face, joined the tense group. He nodded at Christa. “I’d be noticing that little stunner from a mile off.”

“Who are you?” Tibbits snapped.

“Well, I’m not a wimp or a fag,” Eamon answered.

Behind the ubiquitous mirrored glasses, Tibbits gave the young man a casual inspection, then sniffed. “Could have fooled me.”

“Leave us alone, Tibbits.” Helena pulled his attention back to her, afraid Eamon might taunt the man into doing something dangerous. “Just go away and stay away.”

Tibbits stuck his thumbs into his belt, and cocked his head. “Sorry, Missy, but you’re stuck with me until the twenty-third. You keep wearing that suit, I’m going to keep looking, and there isn’t a damned thing you can do about it.”

“You do that and I’ll report you to Temp Security when we get back. I’ll tell them you have an attitude problem and you’re a voyeur.”

“That means Peeping Tom, in case you didn’t know,” Christa said, her arms crossed defiantly over her chest.

“Now, beat it,” Julia ordered.

“You people think you’re so special, prancing around in your stupid get ups.” Tibbits gave Eamon a disgusted look. “But you’re just a bunch of rich snobs play-acting. You pay for this island for a week and think you can do what ever you want. Well, I got news for you. You can’t. You’ve already had stuff stolen, so all you have to do is piss me off, and I call the ferry. I don’t have a reason, I’ll make one up.”

“You do that, and I’ll make sure you pay for it.” Alex, blue eyes narrowed and hard as steel, stepped between Helena and Tibbits.

Helena’s heart sank. A confrontation between these two was the last thing she wanted. “Tibbits was just leaving,” she said, wishing she’d never bought the skimpy little suit or been stupid enough to wear it.

Eamon stepped to Alex’s side, essentially blocking most of Tibbits' view of the women. “Best do it.”

Alex, his fists clenched at his side, added, “You forget, Mr. Tibbits, there are forty of us and only one of you. It will be our word against yours. I don’t know what your record at Temp Security is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve had other complaints about you. So, you better have a damned good reason before you call that ferry.”

“Or you’ll do what, run me through with that prissy sword of yours?” Tibbits chuckled. “Might be a bit tough with that little knob on the end of it.”

“Get lost, Mr. Security Man.” Eamon's voice was cold.

For a horrible moment Helena thought Tibbits was going to refuse. That he would force them to leave the beach in order to escape from him.

With a mocking sneer, Tibbits drawled, “You best mind your people, Captain Fucking Blue, or I’ll mind them for you. Don’t want any accidents to happen, now do we?” With a final snort, he turned and headed back to the main camp.

***

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